Do freedom of information laws increase transparency of government? A replication of a field experiment

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Stephan Grimmelikhuijsen
Peter John
Albert Meijer
Ben Worthy


Openness, Local government, Information requests, Field experiment, Transparency, Freedom of Information


Transparency and responsiveness are core values of democratic governments, yet do Freedom of Information Laws - one of the legal basis for such values - actually help to increase these values? This paper reports a replication of a field experiment testing for the responsiveness of public authorities by Worthy et al (2016) in the United Kingdom. We sent 390 information requests to Dutch local government bodies, half of which were framed as official FOIA requests, the other half as informal requests for information. We were able to reproduce the original findings, that is, we found a positive effect of FOIA requests on responsiveness. The overall response rate of local governments was much higher (76%) and the size of the effect was larger than in the original experiment. Furthermore, the strongest effect of FOI was found on proactive disclosure (concordance), something that governments - strictly speaking - are not obliged to do according to the Dutch FOIA. Implications for future replication studies are discussed.

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