A Worrying Tale: Information access in South Africa

Posted in Blog

By Gabriella Razzano

On 28 September 2015, the world will be celebrating Right to Information Day. As transparency evangelists, ODAC will be trumpeting the horn of excitement for the day. However, as we count down, we though it would be a good time to reflect on the 3 key takeaways as details from our recent report on how the everyday person might experience trying to access information in South Africa:

1. People may know about PAIA, but they don't use it

81% of those questioned in the research knew about the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), but only 24% have made requests. This is in some sense a result of our audience, but also speaks to how intimidating processes involving "legalease", and direct engagement with government, can be.

2. Peoples perceptions of accessing information aren't positive

Popular negative perceptions about trying to get information from government included: a belief they would not get a response, and potential delays. An interesting complaint from one particular subsection of the group was that they weren't sure what to ask! In some sense, this is a failure of information activists. The message of how information can be used to solve your problem should be one we preach loudly and clearly. 

3. The glimmer of hope: once you use it, you're hooked!

Interestingly, those who do eventually use PAIA to access information use it frequently, in that 39% of users have made three or more requests. This is positive - but not a surprise when you consider the amazing ability access to information has to empower people. Its about enhancing dignity - if people know what to ask, and how to ask it, they become actors in their governing! We should be remembering this as we seek to spread the word on the power of information and transparency.

Download the report here

Download a simple infographic on how to use PAIA here