The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA, pronounced "FOYA") has created the springboard for residents to request data from any level of government. Not all documentation can be disclosed with the public, but FOIA Requests are the place to start.
Can I help by making FOIA requests?
Sure! PDAP receives requests for help collecting data from agencies across the United States. Sign up to volunteer for data requests and we'll connect you with an impactful FOIA project.
If you have your own ideas about what to request, go for it!
If you have successfully made a FOIA request through a service like Muckrock (or put the results online in some other way), the URL of the completed request is a valuable data source. Submit it here, and the community will thank you!
Our advice for a successful request
Do some groundwork
You can use MuckRock's guide to see a high-level interpretation of your state's open records law.
Check whether there's a provision that records are provided in the same format they're kept.
Call in advance. Tell the human on the other end what you plan to request and ask them if they have guidance for making the request as easy as possible for them to grant.
Find out what they call the record you're looking for. Requesting the name of a specfic, existing table will make everyone's life easier.
If you develop a relationship with the agency, you may be able to informally request and access the records without a FOIA process.
Check for "required" forms. Technically, you shouldn't need anything but the request—but complying with these "requirements" is a good way to make sure your request is granted.
Making the request
Consider using a service like MuckRock, which helps you make quality requests and keep track of them.
Include a line that if any part of the request is denied, they should proceed with the rest of it.
Include a line that if any part of the request is denied, they should cite the provisions in the state that allow them to deny the request.