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Testing transparency: Methodology

March 12th, 2018

In an effort to test how public boards on the local, county and state level in North Carolina keep and release minutes from closed meetings, 10 news organizations across the state submitted requests to 46 different governing boards.

This story was reported and written in cooperation with the North Carolina Open Government Coalition as part of Sunshine Week, an annual effort to bring attention to open records and open meetings laws and their important role in transparency and accountable government.

The coalition, based at Elon University, brings together news organizations, government representatives and others who are interested in educating the public about the benefits of open government and expanding the rights of all citizens to gain access to public documents and meetings.

Partners in this project included the Associated Press, The Charlotte Observer, The Fayetteville Observer, The News Observer of Raleigh, the News Record of Greensboro, Spectrum News, The Times-News of Burlington, WECT News, WRAL News and WUNC.

Reporters from the Greensboro News Record also submitted requests.

Reporters asked for all closed meeting minutes for all of the 2017 calendar year.

All requests were sent by email in an identical format on or before Jan. 8 to public information officers, clerks or chairs representing each board, with follow-ups weekly. One request, to the UNC Board of Governors, was added to the list and submitted Feb. 12.

Communication with public affairs staff took place primarily by email to better track progress and responses, and all phone calls were recapped with follow-up emails.

To ensure consistency among agencies, reporters used a set of scripted answers to anticipated questions from public affairs staff.

Because it could have skewed the results, agencies weren’t explicitly told the requests were related to a test of responses.

All records received in connection with the project, as well as a spreadsheet tracking response times and details, were shared among the news organizations.

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