KCC’s crummy web practice: blame the computers

Kent County Council has finally come up with an explanation for why it files its public Freedom of Information submissions in a way that makes it near impossible for the public to find them: it’s the computers’ fault.

As save-wye pointed out a few weeks ago, the trickle of FoI documents from KCC over the Wye Concordat was even more difficult to find because of the method the council used to post them in an obscure corner of their website. Most organisations file their documents in the common pdf format as text, which means the contents are easily tracked by public search engines such as Google. KCC, uniquely for any public body we know, scans each document first, which means that they are simply pictures of words, not words themselves, so Google can’t find them.

Why?

Computer

Don’t take it out on KCC: it’s the computers that are depriving you of information

After a complaint by this website, KCC has finally come up with an answer. Says the council in a formal response to us…

Part of the problem was that the majority of KCC officers do not have a need to create Adobe files, therefore the County Council does not install editable versions of Adobe Acrobat on its PCs as a standard feature. Most officers only have access to an Adobe Acrobat reader and consequently, the only way many officers can create pdf files is by scanning a paper copy of the file, rather like a photo and utilising the scanning software — they do not have the facility to convert MS Office files to pdf format.

In other words, KCC does not wish to pay to put the Acrobat software on every employee’s computer simply in order to meet FoI requests. This seems eminently sensible and a sound use of public money, in theory anyway. Except that their alternative solution involves printing out electronic documents then scanning them in order to turn them back into an unreadable electronic form.

There is a very simple alternative, and one that is a lot faster than the process the authority now uses. Give the facility to turn documents into readable pdfs to one department in the publication line — perhaps the FoI department itself? Then have contributing staff e-mail the relevant documents to that department who simply click a button. It takes a couple of seconds, and will save all that time and expense printing out then scanning useless bits of paper. You can even get a free print driver to turn any Windows document into a pdf here. Or just buy a cheap Mac, since they print to pdf out of the box (though you should expect widespread hysteria and mass fainting in the IT department if you suggest that possibility).

The council would be saving itself — and in consequence, us — time and money. More importantly, it would also mean the public might stand a chance of finding those documents supposedly released for our benefit, which is why it is meant to be doing this in the first place. There is no sustainable excuse for pumping out public documents in the amateurish and unreadable fashion the way KCC does at the moment.

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About David Hewson

Professional novelist, published in more than 20 languages. Creator of the Nic Costa series set in modern Rome. Most recent book the novel of the Danish TV series, The Killing.
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