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RIM in Developing Countries: The IRMT Trust.

The major factor contributing to gross inefficiencies and lack of continuity in policies, procedures and measures of many African states is not, as commonly supposed, frequent changes of governments, but bad management of records.

-- K B Asante Secretary for Education Republic of Ghana

The International Records Management Trust (IRMT) promotes records and information management programs in developing countries throughout the world. This singular organization exists to address the most basic and critical records management problems in the world today.

Most of The Information Management Journal's readers reside in the United States and Canada and work for medium to large business corporations and government agencies. Thus, most if not all of their exposure to information management problems is in this context. If they have had any exposure to the international dimensions of their work, this exposure has likely been limited to countries that are major trading partners, nearly all developed countries with advanced industrial and technology infrastructures. Few readers have been exposed to records and information in developing countries, where, in many cases, the infrastructure for managing current records has received little or no attention for years, sometimes decades. The mission of the IRMT, a unique organization in the universe of global information management, is to promote the cause of records and information management in these countries.

The London-based International Records Management Trust (www. irmt.org) was established in 1989 to develop new approaches to the problems of managing records in developing countries. The emphasis of these efforts was, and remains, public sector records, those of governmental bodies. The Trust's central objective is to enable local professionals in developing countries to deliver effective information management services to the organizations for Which they work.

North Americans usually have the luxury of taking public recordkeeping systems for granted. Such systems exist and work at least most of the time; as a result, the government works has the informational capability to deliver required services with some modicum of efficiency and be accountable for those services during audits or other forms of public scrutiny. But what happens when recordkeeping systems of governments collapse, utterly and completely? When the rule of law -- the basic underpinning of the relationship between the government and its citizens -- is jeopardized by the lack of good recordkeeping, this brings into sharp focus the critical importance of records management, not only to the government itself but also to the entire nation. As the IRMT puts it, "loss of control of records undermines the rule of law ... the state loses the capacity to manage the size and efficiency of the public sector ..." Unfortunately this situation exists in a number of developing countries, and the IRMT addresses these most fundamental and compelling records management problems.

A Vision for Better Recordkeeping

The story of the IRMT cannot be told without referring to its founder, Dr. Anne Thurston, who remains its executive director. Although born and educated in the United States, Thurston lived in Kenya during the 1970s, where she worked for the national archives. While there, she became aware of the importance of official records and their proper management to the life of a nation. Thurston's vision for better recordkeeping in developing countries became the basic concept behind the IRMT.

During the early 1980s, Thurston was appointed a lecturer in the school of library, archive and information studies at University College London. While there, she conducted a pioneering study in phases from 1984 to 1988, that surveyed the recordkeeping practices of 30 English-speaking countries of the Commonwealth (countries that were once a part of the British Empire), located in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. The study results indicated striking similarities with respect to recordkeeping:

* The various countries' national archives, the agencies with statutory responsibility for government records, tended to be isolated from the overall management of information in the government, playing virtually no role in managing active records under the custody of government ministries. The archives agencies were generally not recognized as playing any vital role in the life of the governments. The end result was that the governments' institutional memories were significantly impaired, thereby undermining each nation's cultural continuity as a whole.

* There was generally no strategy. for managing official documents required to underpin the rule of law and no professional practices for ensuring accuracy, completeness and accessibility of documents used in legal proceedings or in providing accountability for the proper administration of public programs as authorized by law.

* There was typically no effective strategy for managing official records throughout the stages of their life cycles. Large backlogs of closed files accumulated in government agencies, making it more difficult to find current information. Public officials tended to waste large amounts of time searching for vital documents, as well as large sums of money storing records which could not be accessed.

The grave state of affairs came to the attention of the Keeper of Public Records of the United Kingdom (the national archivist of Great Britain) and the British Department for International Development, a ministry of the national government. The result was two pilot projects authorized to improve the quality of records management in the West African countries of Ghana and The Gambia. The IRMT came into being to administer these and similar projects.

Mission and Organizational Structure

The IRMT is a nonprofit organization governed by seven trustees, most of whom hold professorships in various universities in the United Kingdom or senior administrative positions in the British government. The Trust articulates its core mission as seeking to "educate, train and empower records professionals in developing countries to establish effective records management systems, and to develop and deliver records management projects aimed at institutional strengthening, educational development and practical research." Twelve staff members provide support in delivering projects. An executive director heads the Trust, and oversees two major organizational divisions, each headed by a project director:

* The Country Projects division manages IRMT projects in countries throughout the world using some 40 consultants with expertise in various aspects of archives, records and information management.

* The Research, Development and Education division develops educational materials relevant to the requirements of records and information management specialists in developing countries. With government funding from the United Kingdom, the division has completed two research studies: Personnel Records: A Strategic Resource for Public Sector Management, and Public Sector Management: The Management of Financial Records in sub-Saharan Africa. Two more studies are currently underway, both with World Bank funding: From Accounting to Accountability: Managing Accounting Records as a Strategic Resource, and Accountability Workshops: Supporting Accountability and Anti-corruption Strategies in sub-Saharan Africa.

In November, 1999, the Trust transferred all education and research programs to its new Rights and Records Institute. The establishment of the Institute, which is a division of the Trust, will give a sharp, new focus to these areas of the Trust's work, highlighting records' significance to the management of the state and the delivery of services to citizens.

Strategic Relationships

One of IRMT's major strengths is its ability to cultivate strategic relationships with key international organizations for funding projects, collaborating on project execution, and other types of assistance. The Trust's other strategic alliances important to achieving its global objectives include a long-standing relationship with the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, and collaborative projects conducted with the international accounting firms KPMG Peat Marwick and Coopers & Lybrand. The Trust has collaborated with the British Council, the Association of Commonwealth Archivists and Records Managers, and several other organizations for the production of its videos. Finally, the Trust operates what it calls the Management of Public Sector Records (MPSR) Program jointly with the International Council on Archives. Numerous international organizations fund MPSR, including the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the government of Canada, and others.

Country Projects

In conducting country projects, the IRMT uses its expertise in such records and information management activities as:

* drafting records related legislation

* developing strategic plans for records management improvement

* developing records retention schedules, file classification and indexing systems

* designing and planning records storage facilities

* developing system requirements for computerized records management systems

* conducting training for government officials in records management systems and programs

The IRMT has worked in some 20 countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa (e.g., Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe), but other parts of the world have received the benefits of the IRMT's commitment to better records management as well. In Central America and the Caribbean, the IRMT has worked in Belize, the British Virgin Islands, Grenada, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. The IRMT has worked in the European countries of Malta and Ukraine, in Guyana in South America, the Asian country of Malaysia, and Egypt in North Africa. Highlights of some of these projects include:

* Belize -- The Trust is currently studying government requirements for financial information for this small Central American country. Major accomplishments include the formation of a records management section in the Ministry of the Public Service to replace the old registry office, preparation of a draft records law, and development of staffing specifications for a records cadre. The Belize government's new records management unit will serve as a model for the Caribbean region.

* Cameroon -- In partnership with the Ministry of Public Service, the Trust recently completed a study of personnel records and archival management practices in the government of this West African country. The study resulted in the development of recommendations for a new computerized records management system. Staff training was also provided.

* Ghana -- The most recent of many projects in this West African country resulted in the enactment of a new Public Records and Archives law. Moreover, one of the project's main objectives was to extend records management reforms instituted at ministry headquarters offices to Ghanan government's regional level. The Trust also assessed a computerized personnel and payroll system, and reviewed requirements for improved information systems at the Ministry of Health.

* Saint Kitts and Nevis -- The Trust has completed a project to develop records retention schedules and a document indexing system, with guidelines for their use, for this small Caribbean island nation.

* Tanzania -- This is the largest country project undertaken to date by the Trust. The primary objective is to improve information quality and accessibility in the government of this East African nation by strengthening records management capability. This is the first Trust country project to be staffed with an expatriate residential advisor, a requirement of the funding organization. The project involves working with the government to clear large backlogs of closed files in ministries, to introduce new classification systems, to develop a new legal framework for managing records, and to train staff.

The Management of Public Sector Records Program

The IRMT initiated the Management of Public Sector Records Study Program (MPSR) in 1994. The program provides distance learning opportunities for records and information management professionals in developing countries. More broadly, it seeks to develop international educational opportunities related to problems associated with the management of both paper and electronic records systems in these countries. In 1997, the MPSR became a joint enterprise of the IRMT and the International Council on Archives. A representative of ARMA International is a member of the MPSR's Steering Group. The program's objectives include:

1. developing a series of educational modules on records and archives management, appropriate for use as self-study materials, as part of a distance education program

2. developing related training materials, including case studies, manuals and resource kits for educators

3. producing documentary and instructional videos concerning issues of relevance to records and information managers in developing countries

Eighteen training modules, each with an introduction to the MPSR Project and related training materials, have been developed. The modules provide comprehensive educational coverage in the various aspects of records and information management, and include:

* the management of public sector records: principles and context

* organizing and controlling current records

* building records appraisal systems

* managing records in records centres

* managing archives

* preserving records

* emergency planning for records and archives services

* developing infrastructures for records and archives services

* managing resources for records and archives services

* strategic planning for records and archives services

* analyzing business systems

* understanding computers: an overview for records and archives staff

* automating records services

* managing electronic records

* managing financial records

* managing hospital records

* managing legal records

* managing personnel records

The MPSR educational materials -- some 4,000 pages in total -- are now complete and generally available (as of early 2000) for distribution to 60 countries and eight British territories throughout the world. Approximately half the cost of this distribution was borne by ARMA International through a grant authorized by its board of directors. All funds generated will be used to continue to develop educational materials in the future.

As part of the MPSR program and other professional activities, the Trust has also produced training videos on records management, archives, and other information management issues, along with six documentaries:

* Banjul Records Project, The Gambia (1989)

* The Gambia Records Project: Internalising Change (1993)

* Electronic Records in the New Millennium: Managing Documents for Business and Government (1995)

* Towards Good Government: Records Management and Public Sector Reform in Tanzania (1996)

* Protecting the People: Records Management and Citizens' Rights in Ghana (1996)

* The Return to Democracy: Accountability and Documentary Evidence in The Gambia (1997)

Transitioning Toward an Electronic Future

During its 10-year life, the IRMT's work has demonstrated one central fact: Technology development and other global development agendas pursued by national governments cannot be successfully achieved unless public records are managed well. While this fundamental requirement necessitates focusing on basic, paper-based records management practices, the IRMT also recognizes that the requirements for managing records in an electronic environment are escalating rapidly throughout the world in less developed countries as well as in more advanced ones.

The IRMT is acutely aware of the danger of introducing computerized systems where there is neither a well-managed paper information base, nor the capacity to manage electronic records. The Trust believes that the time is right to develop a global strategic approach to raise awareness of the issues involved and create the professional and institutional capacity necessary to address them. Thus, the Trust is committed to help build a framework of solutions which will aid developing countries in making the transition to the electronic age.

David O. Stephens, CRM, CMC, FAI, is vice president of the Records Management Consulting division at Zasio Enterprises Inc. He has been a consultant in the field of records management for more than 18 years, and has published books and artich's about information management in the United States and abroad. The author may be reached at dostephens@zasio.com.
COPYRIGHT 2000 Association of Records Managers & Administrators (ARMA)
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:STEPHENS, DAVID O.
Publication:Information Management Journal
Geographic Code:00WOR
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Words:2415
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