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Madison’s Super Dope FOIA Tracking Template: A Complete Guide

Featuring: A completely necessary number of Taylor Swift GIFs.
Featuring: A completely necessary number of Taylor Swift GIFs.

Let’s get ready to FOIA!!!

On this page, I’ll go over how to use my FOIA tracking template, set up some google automations and set yourself up to be a god damn FOIA organizational mastermind. This process is annoying and tedious at times, so I’ve incorporated wise words from Mother herself to get us through. If you hate Taylor (as in, if you are just a very sad/angry person inside) this is probably not the tutorial for you.

For everyone else...
Hey! Let’s be friends. I’m dying to see how this one ends.
(JK, I know exactly how this ends - with super organized FOIA requests and it’s gonna be fabulous.)
Start your FOIA organizational journey with the Overview section below or for repeat visitors, jump ahead to Part 2.

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Overview ​What’s a FOIA system anyway? Ew.

Part 1: Getting Started Are You Ready For It?

First things first: What do we really need from a FOIA tracking system?

At it’s most basic level, your FOIA tracking process should have the following:

Part 2: A Google Form and Sheet This is me trying

In its simplest form, all of the FOIA tracking needs we identified above can be accomplished within Google’s suite of free tools. We’ll go through how to copy and customize my template for your own needs. After that, I’ll show some other options to take things a few steps further with automation workflows. But IMO, it might best to start with this setup and use it for a few weeks before deciding what else you want to add on.

How to use Madison’s Super Dope FOIA Tracking Template

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4) Test it out and clean things up!
Now let’s make sure it’s all working correctly. Go back to your form editor and click the purple Send button in the upper right corner. Select the link icon (the second option after “Send Via.” This will give you a hyperlink that you can save wherever is convenient for you so that you can always fill out the form. You’ll want to access it this way rather than through the editor because it’s much more efficient. I saved this link to a bookmark on my browser.
Open this link and fill out a test form. You can use a real FOIA or fake info as you can easily delete it later.
Then go to your spreadsheet and make sure the new information appeared. If CopyDown worked correctly, you should also have an updated MY_ID for your new row of data.
Now that everything is working correctly, you can hide some of the unnecessary columns and rows to just focus on your FOIAs. See the FYI and FAQ section for what I normally hide.
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5) Set yourself up to document your communications and store your records.


6) Reminder: Set yourself up for a new year


FYIs and FAQs - Part 1

IT’S DONE!!!!!!
At least for now… but that’s it for the basic level! You can continue on for more information on how to automate more processes to store your responses or just sit back and enjoy your new super dope, organized FOIA starter kit. Congrats!





Part 3: Supercharge with automationsWe’re only cryptic and machiavellian cause we care (about transparency)

Jan 2024 Update: I wrote all of this out a couple years ago and used to show how the automations could be done on a free account. It worked then and I believe it still works now, but Make.com can be a huge headache. So I also made a template for the automation I use in Zapier. It requires a paid plan so only use it if you really want to commit. I’m just dropping the template link for now but I’ll work on making videos/writing out the steps soon if there is any interest.

Choose your own adventure

There are lots of ways you can further customize your setup to suit your needs. I’m going to show you how to continue to update the Google Sheet we made in the basic level step.
However, if you like to work in a different note-taking or organization program, most of these workflows can be adjusted to fit anything that works with databases or spreadsheets online. For example, I do all of this through Notion (as seen in the overview video). If you have any questions on how to customize any of this to your program of choice, let me know and I’ll do my best to help you figure it out.

A note on automation programs

Most of the workflows I’m going to show you involve third-party automation services. Many of these require paid subscriptions, so take that into account when deciding what you want to do. I also don’t know enough about the privacy standards of each option to recommend one based on that measure.
For example, I’ve used Zapier for my FOIA Tracking setup for several years, but they’ve recently upped their prices so I’m considering switching over to a different program. I’m going to try to set up the automations below in a free version of (formerly Integromat) and will note if anything requires a paid subscription.
For the most part, the plan listed at the beginning of each section will remain the same no matter what service you’re using, so feel free to shop around or use whatever program you are already comfortable with.



Wait! We need to set up some infrastructure!!!




Okay here are the infrastructure steps

1.) If you’re using more than one Gmail account, decide on a log in order and stick to it.
If you are regularly logged into multiple Gmail accounts, the order in which you log into each matters. This is a very annoying thing with Google and there are some workarounds if you just can’t bring yourself to keep up with a system like this, but they are all kind of a pain so it’s really just a matter of picking your poison. Check out the video below to see what I’m talking about.
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2.) Set up a Gmail alias to automatically receive a FOIA label.
Pick a google account: This next part relies on creating Gmail aliases. If you’ve never heard that term before, it’s basically a way to send things to an existing Gmail account that allows Gmail to treat those messages differently than your general inbox. The way we do this depends on what type of Gmail account you have.
If your email address ends in “@gmail.com” - AKA the most common way
If your gmail ends in gmail (i.e. mjhreporter@gmail.com) you can use an alias by adding the + sign and whatever text you want after your username but before the “@” symbol.
Example: mjhreporter+FOIA@gmail.com
If you have a Google Workplace account (i.e. info@madisonhopkins.com)
With this option, you can add an alias in the gmail settings. Look at this page for more info -
. For this tutorial, I’m going to use a regular “@gmail.com” account, so if you’re going this route keep in mind that you’ll need to make a minor few tweaks along the way.
Note: This costs money (unless you’re using an existing work account, like your work email). This is what I personally use because I already have my own workplace account to power my personal website. I use it because I think it looks cleaner, I have more storage and a few other upsides, but IMO it wouldn’t be worth the cost just to get a Marketplace account for anything in these FOIA tutorials.
Pick an alias and save it to your address book as something you’ll remember
I recommend going simple, like the mjhreporter+FOIA@gmail.com stated above. To make sure you don’t misspell anything or forget the alias, I think it’s easiest to just create a new contact in your Gmail or whatever mail client you use and call it “Madison’s FOIA Requests,” but customized for yourself of course.
Set up your Gmail label and filter
Go to the Gmail settings for your select account and select the “Filters and Blocked Addresses” tab. Then click “Create new filter”
In the “To” field, put in the alias email address you decided on.
Select “Create Filter”
In the next window, check “Skip the inbox” and “Mark as Read”
Then check “Apply the Label” and create a new label of “FOIA”
Click “Create Filter”
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Infrastructure: Complete ☑️
That might have felt a bit anticlimactic, but you’re now set up to dive into the automation workflows. Even if you don’t adopt any of the later steps, you can use this process to store your FOIA gmail threads on your personal account, neatly tucked away and organized under their own label.

The Google automations AKA the building blocks for all the dope things to come

Now we’re getting to the good stuff!


Part 2A: Gmail + Make.com: Syncing your email threads with your FOIA tracking spreadsheet

The Plan
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, here is a high-level explanation of the steps we’re going to set up our automation to take.
Watch the FOIA folder in our Gmail account for new emails.
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