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Public Administration and Public Policy: Talk With An Expert

Talk With An Expert

Expertise can be accessed in the following types of people:

  • Liaison librarians at the University of Saskatchewan: there are many librarians with specialist expertise - such as the Data Librarian, the GIS Librarian or the Law Librarian - who might be helpful to you in locating information resources.
     
  • Civil servants: Civil servants at all levels, in the simplest sense, work for us. But beyond that simple - and simplistic - relationship, their responsibility is to advance the objectives of their department and their department's programs by helping citizens. They are typically very open, welcoming and eager to share their expertise. The challenge often is to discover who is responsible for what and their contact information.

    There are online government telephone and email directories such as:


    These directories can help zero in on the right person or program. If nothing leaps out, start with the general contact information for the department or program and work from there.

    TIP: If you can find a person or an office in your region, that is often a good place to start.

  • Policy and subject experts in Think Tanks, Universities and Industry/Trade Associations: Like civil servants, policy experts in think tanks, universities and industry and trade associations can be very open, welcoming and helpful. There are various techniques that are useful in locating these experts but tracking down the names and organizations that you locate while googling around or which you see quoted in newspaper articles is a good first step.
     
  • Newspaper reporters: Newspaper reporters are typically well very informed when they specialize in an issue. If you see a good, relevant newspaper article you might contact the reporter who wrote it.

TIP: Be sure to have done as much homework as reasonable before contacting an expert. This is not only courteous but will demonstrate that you are serious when you talk with them, It will also help ensure that your conversation is fruitful.

TIP: The first person you contact might not be the best person. If the person you are talking with appears cautious about venturing an answer on a topic on which they are not expert, or for which there might be a conflict of interest, or for which there are confidentiality issues, or for which they are not directly responsible, be sure to ask who a good contact might be.

Freedom of Information

Using Freedom of Information or Access to Information requests to obtain government information can be an extremely effective - and sometimes unavoidable - research tactic.

You need to be aware of issues of time and cost, however. Some jurisdictions - Canada federally - charge a fee just to file a request. Others do not charge anything for an initial request. Some jurisdictions have a very quick turnaround time while others - Canada federally, for example - can be quite slow.

There are also rules about which information is available and which information is not. The manner in which you word your request will also affect how quickly and how accurately you get what you want.

Right To Know Canada is the web site of an extremely helpful and comprehensive guide to the web sites of Canada's federal, provincial and territorial Freedom of Information commissions.

 

The BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association has a document entitled Tips for Using the Freedom of Information Laws, and another one entitled How to Request Government Records Using Freedom of Information Legislation.

The tips and suggestions in these two documents are broadly applicable to all FOI requests.

One of the best tips is to talk with someone in the relevant government unit BEFORE you generate a FOI request.

There are a variety of ways to determine who to speak with and their contact information. Refer to the Talk With an Expert box on this page.