WhatDoTheyKnow Policy:Authority descriptions

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This page is based on an extract of WhatDoTheyKnow policy documentation. Please address any queries to WhatDoTheyKnow.com.

The process of developing policies is ongoing and changes are to be expected.

Public notes can be added to any public authority on the site, text can be inputted in HTML format.

At present the public notes are used for five main purposes:

  • providing a general description of the organisation
  • explaining specific limitations in the scope of FOI for a particular authority (e.g. Bank of England)
  • helping to ensure requests are directed to the right place
  • indicating that an authority is defunct/identifying the successor organisation
  • making it clear that an authority is not in fact subject to FOI and justifying its inclusion on the site

General descriptions

A good general descriptions should:

  • be clear and easy read
  • enable users to understand what a body is and what it is responsible for doing
  • help to ensure that users send their request to 'the right authority'
  • include alternative names by which an authority is known/relevant search terms (but not translations)
  • unbiased
  • be less than about 120 words long, if the description is too long users will have to scroll down to find the "Make a new Freedom of Information request" link

How adding descriptions helps the site

The main reasons for writing clear descriptions are as follows:

  • to help our users to understand what public bodies do and to make the requests to the right body
  • to help public authorities by reducing the number of requests that are made to the wrong body and have to be resubmitted
  • public authority pages with good content will be found by search engines


If you come across a public authority which does not currently have a description and you think you could write one, please contact us.

Here are a few examples of good descriptions we already have on the site: HMRC, Ministry of Defence, Prime Minister's Office


  • has description - for authorities which already have a reasonably complete description