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NEW - Tips for Managing Public Records Requests during COVID-19

We know that with the current COVID-19 crisis and corresponding government emergency response, agencies are dealing with a lot of upheaval, including reduced staffing, remote works, and shifting commitments and priorities. We at NextRequest want to support you however we can to meet your current public records requests priorities, as well as to help you communicate to requesters and the public as those priorities change. We've put together this set of suggestions for how you can continue accessing NextRequest remotely, manage requester expectations and divert requesters to existing information. If you have any questions, or would like to discuss your agency's specific challenges please don't hesitate to reach out to support@nextrequest.com.

Access NextRequest remotely

NextRequest is a cloud-based web application, which means that it can be accessed from any location. Your staff shouldn't have any issues with accessing NextRequest from their homes. If anybody does run into difficulties please have them reach out to support@nextrequest.com and we're happy to help troubleshoot.

Set up an auto-response

You can include custom text in the automatic message that is sent to each requester after they submit a public records request. You can use this text to set expectations about how response times may be slower due to COVID-19 related staffing changes, or to inform requesters of anything else that is important to know for their requests. The text will be the same across requests for all departments. Steps are:

  1. Go to Admin > All Templates > Message Templates
  2. Click the Create Message Template button
  3. Enter the text that you want to be included in the automatic message, give it a name, and click the Save button
  4. Locate the template in the list and click the toggle in the ‘Initial Contact’ section
  5. Click the Preview button to see how the message will look to the requester

Update your Home Page and/or Make a Request sidebar text

This is the text that every visitor to the portal will see before they submit a request. You can use this text to set expectations about response times and to direct them towards relevant information both on the NextRequest portal and other websites. Steps are:

  1. Go to Admin > Portal Settings
  2. Select ‘Front page text’ from the list on the left
  3. Enter the text you want to display on the home page in the box
  4. Click Save
  5. Select ‘New request form’ from the list on the left
  6. Enter the text you want to display in the box labeled ‘Text for the request form sidebar’
    • Optional: use the ‘edit/insert link’ button (looks like a piece of chain link) above the field to add a link to another webpage
  7. Click Save

Proactively upload and publish documents

You don’t have to wait until somebody requests a document to make it available on your portal. Any documents that you expect to get asked for, and which are appropriate for the general public you can proactively upload and publish directly to the documents list. Steps are:

  1. Go to the Documents page (link at the top of the portal)
  2. Click the Upload button
  3. Drag and drop your files onto the menu
  4. Under ‘Document Visibility’ select ‘Public’
  5. Click the Save button

Bonus tip: Direct requesters to the documents you expect to be the most popular by creating Alerts and/or updating text on the Home Page and make a Request Page

Create alerts directing people to popular information

This is always a great way to reduce unnecessary requests, and may be particularly useful if you are getting a lot of questions about your agency’s coronavirus preparation and response. When a requester types a predetermined word or phrase, it will pop-up a message with the text of your choosing. This text can include a link to another page, instructions for a different destination for their request, or other relevant information. Steps are:

  1. Go to Admin > Alerts
  2. Click the Create Alert button
  3. Type your desired keyword(s) in the top field, separated by a | (vertical bar usually on the same key as the backslash). For example if you wanted to have an alert for all coronavirus related searches you might do ‘ covid | corona’. This alert will be triggered for all requests that include “covid,” “covid-19”, “corona virus,” and “coronavirus”, among other possible combinations
  4. Type the message you want to pop up in the bottom box
  5. Click the Save button