A New World Ahead: International Challenges for Information Management.
We live in a changed and changing world, with new challenges facing those who manage organizational information. Thoughts about the future of information and records management must include the realities of high-speed communication around the world, a global economy, and the accelerating adoption of internationally authoritative standards, such as ISO 9000 and the Australian AS 4300. The effects they will have on records systems practices in the future will pose serious challenges to organizations and the profession worldwide.
The first challenge, which arises directly from the spread of democratic systems and institutions in recent years, is the movement for greater accountability and transparency in government. Governments need to be accountable to individual citizens, to business organizations, to individuals, and to those organizations in other countries with whom they trade in the global marketplace. This need for accountability also applies in the developing world where a restructuring of public services is demanded by donor and lending agencies. This heightened accountability wholly depends on a proper information infrastructure.
The second challenge arises from the fast growth in electronic generation of records, in particular the widespread use of electronic office systems and the development of electronic communications. We now have more and better means of generating and transmitting information than ever before, but our abilities to manage it effectively, especially in the longer term, are lagging behind.
Despite the shrinking of the world -- in a virtual sense -- from better communications, language and cultural differences remain. This cultural dissonance continues to affect the ways in which organizational information is managed across the world. This is the third challenge.
The fourth challenge is the continuing gulf between the resources available in the developed and developing worlds. This is changing into an ever-enlarging gulf between the information and technology "haves" and "have-nots." This disparity creates an ethical concern as well as one founded in an economic and commercial domain.
Organizations operating at the international level are responding to global challenges by forming strategic alliances to share resources and develop joint positions. The three main international organizations concerned with archives and records management are ARMA International, the International Council on Archives (ICA) and the International Records Management Trust (IRMT). In 1996, these bodies agreed on an accord that recognizes the important roles organizational records, particularly in underpinning accountability in democratic societies; and voices concern about the ability of organizations to maintain their records, particularly because of a lack of skilled specialist staffs. The accord also recognizes that although general approaches to record keeping can be established internationally, there are laws, policies, standards ,and practices which will continue to vary from country to country.
The accord suggests several areas for cooperation, including identifying best practices and standards, disseminating educational materials, exchanging information between periodicals, and participating in joint field projects. Part of the spirit of the accord rests in getting to know the organizations and their people, and the invitation of representatives from each organization to attend annual meetings has helped considerably in this respect. ICA, IRMT, and ARMA are all very different organizations, but by working together the group is richer than the sum of the parts.
Future cooperation between ICA's Committee on Electronic and other Current Records and ARMA's Electronic Records Management Committee will likely cover functional requirements for electronic records, competencies for knowledge workers in archives and records management, devolution of public record keeping to the private sector, and principles for managing archives and current records.
Management of Public Sector Records Project
One of the accord's tangible results is cooperation on the Management of Public Sector Records Project (MPSR). Developed by IRMT, this project is one of the most significant responses to the challenge of managing information in developing countries. The aim of the project is to build an integrated approach to managing public-sector information resources and to empower archives and records professionals to manage it as a strategic resource. Representatives of ARMA and of ICA are on the steering body, and joint discussions on distributing the products of the project's efforts have been held.
The project arose from a recognition that the national archives in many English-speaking developing countries typically held the archival material from the nation's colonial period but that those archival institutions were not dealing with more modern material. In the agencies of government, semi-current and non-current records were piling up, leading to a clogging of the information arteries and a virtual collapse of record keeping systems. To make matters worse, in some cases entirely new electronic systems were being built on top of collapsed paper ones.
IRMT experts who carried out missions in a number of Commonwealth developing countries saw that the archive and record professionals in these countries were the obvious people to make the difference: they had skills on which to build and they had resources (e.g., staff and buildings) that might be used more efficiently. The leverage needed for these resources is training, educational programs to improve the skills and capacities of archives and records professionals in these countries. From the beginning, however, IRMT saw that simply improving the capacity of staff was not enough: the senior mangers and decision makers also had to recognize the value of managing information as a strategic resource. Then developed the idea of seminars bringing together national archivists and very senior government officials to discuss the management of information. These are made more powerful by being at an international or regional level bringing together participants from a number of countries.
To meet this need, the MPSR developed a series of training modules designed to be applicable in a variety of teaching environments, ranging from self-study to incorporation in the syllabus of university programs. The modules deal with core subjects such as principles of archives and records management, business systems analysis, and preserving records and archives, as well as with the management of specialized types of records, such as personnel and hospital files. A rigorous program of testing, evaluating and rewriting ensures high quality and relevance. A series of case studies and procedure manuals accompany the modules, and video productions have been created to increase the program's impact. The full set of modules should be available mid-1999. Although aimed at developing countries, where they will be distributed at cost, the modules are likely to be of interest to a wider range of records managers and archivists.
In a related project, ICA has been working with IRMT and using funding from the U.N. Development Program, to investigate adapting the materials for use in other languages and cultural traditions. Perhaps more funding from other international bodies will be available to carry on this work, targeting Spanish-speaking Latin America and French-speaking Africa. One of the most interesting aspects of this program is the investigation of whether there are truly international, intercultural concepts underlying the management of archives and records.
The Quest for Standards
One response to the challenge of cultural and administrative diversity is the drive for standards. Considerable interest has focused on the Australian records management standard AS4390, issued in 1996. It is now being developed into an international standard, which will likely look different from its parent standard and reflect differences in record keeping systems in other countries.
The body that drew up AS4390 included archivists and records managers as well as private consultants and institutions. The members of the group were largely from the public sector, but the Institute of Company Secretaries of Australia was also represented. Though solidly founded in the work of the professional records community, the standard is also broadly based and has a wide application.
The standard is described as a voluntary code of practice that applies to both manual and computerized systems. It covers the "whole extent of a record's existence" from the system design stage through to preservation and use in the archive, and stresses that all levels of an organization must take responsibility for the management of records.
The standard defines "the discipline and organizational function of managing records to meet operational business needs, accountability requirements, and community expectations." This forthright statement closely reflects modern archival thinking, which has been particularly developed in Australia. This is carried over into the definition of appraisal as "the process of evaluating business activities to determine which records need to be captured and how they need to be kept." This is what archivists refer to as functional appraisal, and it represents a radical departure from the traditional view of appraisal based on the intrinsic value of the individual record or records series.
The standard breaks down appraisal into three stages:
1. analysis of the environment in which the organization operates
2. analysis of its business functions
3. determination of which records should be captured and how long they should be maintained
The analysis of business functions is perhaps the key factor. The standard advises focusing first on goals and strategies of the organization, then looking at the broad functions that support the goals, then breaking these down into constituent activities, and finally looking at groups of recurring transactions which constitute each activity. This methodical, hierarchical approach provides a good framework for any organizational analysis. The results are combined with the internal and external requirements for accountability for each business activity, from which decisions may be made about what records should be captured from where and when. These decisions must also take into account a risk assessment of the consequences of having incomplete or no records of a particular activity.
The larger importance of AS4390 is underlined by the fact that it has become the core of work toward an international standard. The process by which a national standard becomes an international one is lengthy and complex. It usually involves considerable changes to accommodate national differences. This is important on all sides because once a standard is accepted by the International Standards Organization (ISO), it is automatically accepted by all the national standards bodies that belong to ISO.
The Australian standard was originally intended to be put on a fast track for approval by ISO, but it was realized that it was incompatible with some national record keeping systems and legal frameworks. ISO therefore agreed to conduct a detailed analysis and revision and set up a subcommittee on archives and records management, known as SC11 within Technical Committee 46, which held its first meeting in Athens in May 1998. Participating members are Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the United States, with several other countries observing. ARMA, ICA, and IRMC have also been represented at meetings.
It is too early to say what the new ISO standard will look like, but some idea can perhaps be gleaned from the decision of SC11 to create four ad hoc working groups to address:
* creating and capturing records
* control systems
* terminology and responsibility
* appraisal and disposition
These broad categories cover the main headings of AS4390, though it is already clear that the ISO standard will be a single document. Another indication is that the participants have determined the standard should apply principally to the period when the records are with the creating agency and not the period when they are transferred to an archive for preservation. This suggests that the Australian continuum approach -- as opposed to the information life-cycle concept -- is considered too radical in some other countries. Terminology has also been a problem since many countries do not distinguish between "record" and "archive." The French, for example, have only les archives, a term that applies from the point of creation.
Developments in Electronic Records Management
One of the pressing issues faced by archival organizations working on electronic records management is custody. Some maintain that it is essential for the archive to take physical custody of the electronic materials in the same way it does for conventional paper records. At the other extreme, however, some archivists have argued that it is better to leave the electronic materials in the hands of the creating agency while maintaining intellectual control over them and offering advice on appraisal and long-term preservation and access.
The National Archives of Australia has taken this non-custodial or distributed custody approach. They argue, first, that the agencies are most likely to understand their electronic systems and the applications required to maintain the records. Second, this approach also means the records remain accessible. Third, as technologies change, creating agencies are in the best position to ensure that records of enduring value are migrated to new systems.
Life Cycle and Continuum
It is no coincidence that Australia has chosen the continuum model, for it is here, among a very vibrant professional community, that debate on the reinvention of records management has been strongest. Underlying this position is the Australian adoption of the continuum concept to replace the traditional record life cycle. The more traditional life-cycle approach suggests that there are stages in the life of a record: creation, active use, semi-active and inactive, and disposition, either by destruction or retention in an archive institution. This paradigm works very well for traditional paper records, whose fate can be decided at relative leisure once their active life is over or once they have passed their administrative usefulness. But the increasing use of electronic records has led archivists and records managers to realize that they cannot wait until these are past their administrative "sell-by" date because by then the systems used to generate them may be obsolete or have disappeared, and vital contextual information may have been lost.
By contrast, the continuum approach develops the life cycle in two ways. First, it introduces an important new stage at the beginning, even before creation: the conception, or planning point, of the record system. The continuum model emphasizes that the record manager or archivist should be involved at this stage.
Second, it abandons the traditional distinction between record and archive, focusing instead on managing the record across the whole of the continuum. "Ensuring reliability, authenticity, and access without limit of time" is the maxim of the continuum model. This approach suits well the new demands of the electronic record. As Barbara Reed explained in a recent article (Records Management Journal, December 1997): "The notion of the records continuum is as important as a way of thinking as it is a specific set of ideas."
What governments at the national level decide to do in the area of information policy often effects the future efforts of smaller governmental entities and the private sector as well. It is important to note, then, that the continuum model also underlies the development of the Australian records management standard. Those who consider adoption of the Australian standard will want to review their own current underlying assumptions about the life-cycle model.
Strategies and Policies in Electronic Records Management
In the arena of large public archives, the principal players in electronic records management are the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in the United States, the Public Record Office in England, and the National Archives of Australia and Canada. There appears to be a broad similarity of approach by these institutions, partly because they share similar record keeping traditions, and partly because the key personnel are also involved in a number of the joint initiatives mentioned in this article, including those of the ICA committee.
In the United States, development of policy on electronic records has been somewhat skewed but has probably been accelerated by the court case over General Records Schedule (GRS) 20. Following the October 1997 Federal District Court ruling that the schedule is null and void, the Archivist of the United States established an interagency work group to examine how to deal with the disposition of types of electronic records previously covered by GRS 20. The group consulted widely and reported in September 1998 with recommendations as to how NARA should change its guidance to federal agencies, recommendations that have been accepted by the Archivist. In a statement on September 21, 1998, he agreed that NARA and other agencies have to develop long-term plans for dealing with electronic records, together with practical short-term solutions that can be implemented today. This will mean a complete re-engineering of the way NARA appraises and schedules records in all formats, as well as ensuring that essential evidence in electronic record s is properly preserved. These revisions will effect all government agencies and their contractors.
In another interesting policy development, the U.S. Department of Defense standard 5015.2 -- Design Criteria for Electronic Records Management Software Applications has been endorsed by NARA, which participated in its development. In its endorsement, NARA stated that this is but one model; there may be other, equally valid ones. NARA also pointed out that the standard does not by itself solve all electronic record keeping problems. NARA and the Department of Defense will now work together on developing the standard and producing operational guidance.
The Public Record Office (PRO) of the United Kingdom distinguishes between electronic data containing statistical or economic material, such as survey databases, which are managed on its behalf by a specialized unit at the University of London, and those electronic-documents-as-records, which are dealt with by its Electronic Records in Office Systems (EROS) program. It expects to take physical custody of EROS materials, though more specialized electronic documents such as those from Geographic Information Systems are likely to remain in the distributed custody of departments.
PRO published Guidelines on the Management and Appraisal of Electronic Records in April 1998, a document that combines an excellent overview with practical policies. A useful checklist of procedures and annexes with sample metadata elements and guidance on corporate filing structures and file transfer formats are also included. The guidelines also suggest that future data migration may be required as often as every three years. A copy of the guidelines can be downloaded from the PRO Web site.
The Australian archives have issued a series of documents entitled Keeping Electronic Records. These are aimed at government agencies and combine a general overview of the subject with detailed guidance. These documents follow many of the same lines as the records management standard AS4390, underlining convergence in views of how the management of electronic and nonelectronic records should be handled.
The most significant feature of the Australian approach is the strategy of distributed custody, a status in which most electronic records will be retained by the creating agencies yet under the intellectual control of the National Archives. Details of the limited cases in which the Archives will take custody of electronic materials are also given; for example, the disappearance of an agency with no clear successor. The document is available from the Australian Archives' Web site.
The National Archives of Canada hosts an Information Management Forum to bring together senior managers from more than 25 government departments and agencies concerned with the effective management of information. The Forum has a number of groups working on issues such as terminology and standards, description, essential records, and disposal schedules. One area of interest is "devolution," which concerns the special requirements imposed when records are transferred to another jurisdiction (e.g., in the private sector). Private records management companies looking for government contracts may find this of special interest.
Another recently issued document concerns the human resources requirements for the record keeping community. More details are available from the Forum's Web site. The National Archives of Canada also has a number of documents on electronic records management available on its site.
Other Initiatives in Electronic Records Management
Another initiative on electronic records coming primarily from the archive world is the Interpares (literally, "among equals") project, or International Research on Permanent Authentic Records in Electronic Systems. This effort is based on the idea that the theoretical tools developed in archival science can be used to provide a basis for ensuring long-term preservation of electronic records and for developing appropriate policies, strategies, and standards.
Interpares is a major international collaborative effort led by Luciana Duranti, a professor at the University of British Columbia. The project began January 1999 and will run for three years. The work will be done by a series of groups drawn from archival experts in the American, Canadian, Italian, European, and Australian nations and regions, plus a global information technology (IT) industry group.
The project is split into four domains. The first is the development of requirements for preserving authentic electronic records, defining what is needed to ensure authenticity. The second will examine appraisal criteria and methods for evaluating electronic records and will determine if these methods should differ from those used for traditional records. The third area concerns formulation of rules and procedures for implementing the needs identified in the first domain. The fourth will provide a framework for formulating policies, strategies and standards at international, national, and organizational levels, taking into account the different cultural, legal and administrative environments.
Reflecting the interests of Duranti, the project methodology will give prominence to using diplomatics. Diplomatics is a set of techniques that evolved in Europe over several centuries, and which can verify the authenticity of documents whose provenance is uncertain. This application of diplomatics should prove valuable in developing additional standards.
This is an initiative by the European Commission concerned about the problems of electronic records and public policy. (DLM is the abbreviation of the French phase for machine-readable records.) The overall objective is "to achieve multidisciplinary Europe-wide cooperation to produce guidelines and information, and to disseminate these, to provide support to solving the issues faced in dealing with electronic records."
Although its origins date back as far as 1991, the Forum was launched at a conference in Brussels in December 1996. This brought together archivists and records managers from the public and private sectors, government administrators, and IT specialists. The discussions covered developments both in government administration and in business, particularly the pharmaceuticals industry.
The 1996 Forum adopted a 10-point follow-up plan that called first for a study of the relationship between public administration and archives services concerning electronic documents and records management. It also included (1) the promotion of best practice and guidelines, including those of ICA, (2) the establishment of national focal points to exchange information, and (3) fostering multidisciplinary cooperation and standard setting.
The most tangible result to date is the guidelines on best practice for electronic records, which were published as a supplement of INSAR-European Archives News. The best-practices section focuses on the practical aspects of managing electronic documents rather than the record keeping aspects with which ICA's expert committee has been concerned. In addition, joint training initiatives on electronic records management involving various European universities are under discussion. A study of the relationship between public administration and archives was slated to start in December 1998. (See Resources)
A proposal to produce a model of functional requirements for record keeping, on the other hand, initially ran into some difficulty and is now being further refined before the work is again tendered by the European Commission. The goal is to produce a model that can be used to help leverage the industry to take the problems seriously. As the draft document puts it: "There is an opportunity ... to show software suppliers a very large need to meet these requirements, to show them a large market. That [need] is actually going to have more effect on software suppliers than anything else." The potential return, both for European records managers and for businesses, is significant.
The draft also makes a strong case for practical solutions, arguing that existing functional requirements are either too theoretical or too general. This is an important point, one to which others working in the area should pay attention.
Future cooperative projects under the DLM program will follow two strands: one focusing on the early or records management stage, and one on the later stage of long-term preservation and access. This seems to be a pragmatic compromise, reflecting the continuing distinctions in many member states between the two stages of records.
ICA's work: on current records, records management, and electronic records is supported by one of its expert committees, chaired by John McDonald of the National Archives of Canada. ICA's approach to records management issues in the last few years reflects the changing perceptions of the profession.
In the 1996 reorganization of ICA's committees, for example, the current records and the electronic records functions were joined when previously each had been addressed by different bodies. This was partly stimulated by a general desire to rationalize the structure of committees. But underlying this was the important recognition that the distinctions between the functions of managing current records and managing electronic records was eroding to an extent that it would be virtually impossible to deal with them separately, or at least to avoid considerable duplication of effort.
Electronic records, in other words, were no longer seen as a special-media issue, but rather as part -- albeit a very important part -- of current record issues. This direction was also reflected in the name of the new body: the Committee on Electronic and Other Current Records (CECR).
CECR developed a series of interesting products: it conducted a survey of the electronic record keeping policies and practices in all the national archives that were ICA members, which encompassed about 190 countries and territories. The objective was to provide a baseline for measuring future developments. The committee also published a valuable literature review on electronic records by Alf Erlandsson of the International Monetary Fund. But CECR's major efforts were devoted to producing a guide to managing electronic records from an archival perspective. Part one, published in 1997, identified four general principles:
* The archives should be involved in the entire life cycle of electronic systems that create and retain archival electronic records.
* The archives should ensure that records creators create and retain records which are authentic, reliable, and preservable.
* The archives must manage the appraisal process and exercise intellectual control over electronic records.
* The archives must articulate preservation and access requirements to ensure that archival electronic records remain available, accessible, and understandable.
The committee recently affirmed the important role of the archive institution in advising the creating agency about how to ensure that the records it created would remain authentic, reliable, and preservable over time. This affirmation confirms the need for the archival institution to take an active role throughout the continuum.
CECR is now engaged in developing the second part of the guide, in which strategies are converted into practical guidance. This section will deal primarily with record keeping issues, but in particular contexts: work-flow procedures and systems, databases, specialized electronic systems such as geographic information systems (GIS), multimedia records, custody strategies, etc. It will also cover different categories of electronic records, which will be defined and described according to their specific characteristics. The end product is envisaged as a series of short reports or fact sheets on each issue, to be published in printed form and made available on the ICA Web site (see Resources). The target is to complete many of these reports or fact sheets by mid-1999. A presentation will also be made at the next International Congress in Seville in 2000.
Appraisal is perhaps the heart of the archivist's art and is critical to all other archival activities. The guide noted above gives some advice on how electronic records should be appraised. There is a general sense that appraisal of electronic materials is not generally different from appraisal of traditional records on paper. It must take place, however, at a much earlier stage, indeed at the conception stage of the record keeping system or at any significant re-engineering of such a system. As in the Australian standard, it also must be closely linked to business functions and to questions of accountability. CERC is working on a paper that will give guidance on appraisal strategies and will establish a checklist that will help identify legal and functional context and the stakeholders, as well as appropriate appraisal methods and criteria.
The key to understanding the content and structure of records is the context of their creation. It is essential for contextual information to be captured at the time of creation and to be linked to the record. Once records move to the long-term preservation stage, intellectual control must continue to be exercised over them, and archivists normally do this through descriptions.
Standards for description, such as the International Standard Archival Description (General) published by ICA (available at http://www.archives.ca/ica/) are emerging. The challenge now is to integrate these standards, which concern data for the preservation and use of the record in the long-term with the data captured at the time of the record's creation.
The committee is aware of the large number of functional models (as many as 20) for electronic record keeping that have been or are being developed. Rather than trying to develop yet another model, CERC will be considering how to review the existing models and investigating ways of presenting the information (e.g., via a Web gateway).
The information management profession, including records management and archives management, is responding to the current and future worldwide challenges it faces. The drive for greater accountability and transparency in the work of governments will present opportunities for developing record keeping systems to support the new policy priorities.
The challenge of electronic records is being met by re-evaluating the theoretical tools of archival science and re-engineering the role of the records manager. There seems to be a broad consensus developing on these issues with regard to the approaches of some of the national archives in the English-speaking world. These are based solidly in functional appraisal, though with some differences, such as issues about custody arrangements. However, work remains to be done on developing these theoretical and analytical approaches into really practical policies.
The spread of standards is beginning to shrink the cultural and administrative differences among professionals in different nations. Work on an international records management standard in particular is providing a very practical focus for cooperation among institutions and organizations involved in record keeping. This may be a starting point for such initiatives in the future.
Educational materials and programs are beginning to make a difference by empowering records managers and archivists in developing countries to manage information as a strategic resource. Much of this work is equally applicable in the developed world, and the development of educational materials may be another area for future cooperation. At the global level, increased cooperation between the international organizations concerned with records is helping to coordinate their activities and to deliver better quality services to their members, the profession, and the organizations to which they belong.
The following Web sites were used in writing this article and contain additional valuable information:
National Archives of Australia Record Keeping Guidelines -- http://www.naa.gov.au/govserv/techpub/ elecrecd/KeepingER.html
The National Archives of Canada -- http://www.archives.ca/
Government of Canada Information Management Forum -- http://www.inforumgi.gc.ca
National Archives and Records Administration, United States -- http://www.nara.gov
Public Record Office, London, United Kingdom -- http://www.pro.gov.uk
Interpares Project -- http://www.interpares.org
DLM Forum of the European Commission -- http://www.echo.lu/dlm
International Council on Archives -- http://www.archives.ca/ica
George MacKenzie is responsible for special projects at the National Archives of Scotland, Edinburgh. Most recently, he has been working on the Scottish Archive Network, which has received major funding from the U.K. Heritage Lottery Fund, and on the European Union Archive Network, an investigative project funded by the European Commission involving partners from four European countries. MacKenzie previously worked for the International Council of Archives (ICA) in Paris, and remains the Deputy Secretary General on a honorary basis. He is also involved with ICA's initiatives on protection of cultural property following armed conflict and other disasters. The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||Information Management Journal|
|Date:||Apr 1, 1999|
|Previous Article:||The Perilous Future of Decision Making in Information Management.|
|Next Article:||Achieving Professional Excellence for a New Century.|