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Toolkits from across the pond: the United Kingdom has developed standards and guidelines that are persuading organizations to take records management more seriously. (Records Management).

At the Core

This article

* examines U.K. records management standards and guidance developments

* discusses PRO and National Archives e-government initiatives in the United Kingdom

* examines electronic records management tools

The United States has long taken a leading role in the development of records management methodologies and techniques. In recent years, however, other countries have been active in developing new approaches to managing records. Australia's Victorian Electronic Records Strategy (VERS) and the National Archives of Australia's Designing and Implementing Recordkeeping Systems (DIRKS) strategy are two well-known examples.

VERS is a framework of standards, guidance, and implementation projects centered around the goal of reliably and authentically archiving electronic records created or managed by the Victorian government. The DIRKS methodology is an eight-step process agencies can use to improve recordkeeping and information management practices, including the design and implementation of new recordkeeping systems. DIRKS is compliant with, and expands on, the methodological framework of the Australian records management standard, AS ISO 15489-2002.

To be effective, records managers must take into account the legislative, policy, and business environment in which they operate. Thus, an approach that may be effective in one country or industry may not be wholly appropriate in another.

Nonetheless, records management does have a core methodology--one that can be applied in any circumstance. For these reasons, records management standards and guidance developments in the United Kingdom (U.K.) are examples of work generated outside the United States that should be of wider interest to all records managers.

In April 2003, the U.K. Public Record Office (PRO) and Historical Manuscripts Commission (HMC) merged to become the National Archives. The U.K. National Archives acts as a repository for historical records. In addition, it advises government departments on best practices in records management. In the last few years, the National Archives has been active in developing best-practice guidance to meet two main objectives:

* Implementation of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000

* Achievement of the U.K. government's e-government policy initiative (also known as the known as the "Modernising Government" agenda).

This context is important for understanding what the National Archives' best-practice guidance is designed to achieve.

Freedom of Information Legislation

The FOI Act 2000, which comes into full effect January 1, 2005, mandates a fundamental change in the culture and business practices of public bodies in England and Wales, ranging from central government to parish council levels. The objective is a more transparent and accountable government, and the principal government players are the Information Commissioner, the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD), and the National Archives.

The Information Commissioner is an independent supervisory authority reporting directly to the U.K. Parliament. This office is responsible for enforcing the FOI Act and the Data Protection Act. The LCD is the equivalent of the U.S. Department of Justice; its main role is to secure the efficient administration of justice in England and Wales. It has a FOI and Data Protection Division that is responsible for policy in this area and for overseeing the implementation of the FOI Act. The LCD has issued the Lord Chancellor's Code of Practice on the Management of Records (Code of Practice), although the technical expertise came from the National Archives, which is both an executive agency of the LCD and a government department in its own right, reporting to the LCD.

The Modernising Government Agenda

The Modernising Government agenda aims to transform completely the U.K.'s public sector. This policy initiative relies heavily on the use of information and communications technologies to achieve the goal of putting citizens first by (1) ensuring public services are accessible to all and (2) overcoming barriers by shifting the focus of public services to the user's perspective. This is known as e-government.

E-government refers to the use by government agencies of information technologies (such as wide area networks, the Internet, and mobile computing) that have the ability to transform relations with citizens, businesses, and other branches of government. These technologies can serve a variety of different ends: better delivery of government services to citizens, improved interactions with business and industry, citizen empowerment through access to information, or more efficient government management. The resulting benefits can be less corruption, increased transparency, greater convenience, revenue growth, and/or cost reductions.

Both U.K. central government and local authorities have been given a challenging target: Every central government department and agency must be able by 2004 to store and retrieve all newly created public records electronically. This strategy implies a massive increase in the volume of electronic records systems and more powerful information retrieval systems. The Cabinet Office through the Office of the e-Envoy, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister with responsibility for the regions, and the National Archives, are taking the lead in this work.

The National Archives has had to move quickly to contribute to the overall Modernising Government strategy; it has published Route Map and Milestones to Achieve Electronic Records Management by 2004 (Route Map) and has produced a set of practical toolkits to support the implementation of electronic records management. The National Archives oversees achievement of relevant targets, monitors progress, and reports regularly to the LCD.

These two key initiatives reinforce each other: (1) the POI Act creates a statutory right to information held by government, and (2) the Modernising Government agenda provides a means of delivering the information inexpensively over the Internet. Consequently, the Code of Practice and the National Archives' records management guidance need to be considered together. The FOI-related material provides the over-arching records management framework, irrespective of medium, whereas the Archives' guidance provides a specialized route, map and tools for the introduction of electronic records management.

LCD Code of Practice and Model Action Plans

In addition to the Code of Practice, the LCD has published supporting model action plans for different parts of the public sector: central government, local authorities, higher and further/ continuing education, and police authorities. The Code of Practice is not mandatory, but the Information Commissioner can compel organizations to implement it if, having investigated complaints from members of the public, he is satisfied that the organization needs to improve its records management in order to fulfill its obligations under the FOI Act. Organizations may prefer to voluntarily implement the Code of Practice rather than risk the negative publicity of appearing to be either incompetent or poor corporate citizens. Moreover, voluntary compliance is potentially much cheaper than complying with a deadline set by a court.

The Code of Practice provides a high-level statement of the key elements of a records management program recommended for public bodies subject to the FOI Act. Program elements covered include:

* functional responsibility

* policy

* human resources

* active records management (i.e., record creation, recordkeeping, record maintenance)

* disposal arrangements (i.e., record closure/cutoff, appraisal planning and documentation, record selection)

* management of electronic records

Model action plans also provide a timetable for implementation.

The Code of Practice: Potential Uses

Many countries have enacted freedom of information and data protection laws, and the Enron scandal has brought the importance of good records management practice to the attention of many businesses. Increasingly, senior executives know that they need records management, but they often have little idea what it takes to achieve successful implementation. Typically, decision-makers focus on only one or two aspects of a program (e.g. retention schedules and vital records) and are unaware of the need for all the building blocks to be in place. Although the Code of Practice is designed for the British public sector, it provides an approach that can be adapted easily to commercial environments, including those outside the United Kingdom.

The Code of Practice is written clearly and is precise in its approach. It is broadly consistent with the ISO 15489 Records Management standard. However, the Code of Practice has the advantage of being more succinct (i.e., 14 pages for the Code of Practice versus 58 pages for parts 1 and 2 of ISO 15489). This makes it much easier to use as a tool for communication with management and those personnel who are not records management specialists.

To give one example, the Code of Practice can be re-written as a records management policy (i.e., statement of principles) or as a short statement of practice aimed at subsidiary bodies. This flexibility may be valuable in enterprises where the organization places a good deal of discretion on the practices that local managers or subsidiaries adopt. In circumstances where a directive from an organization's headquarters is likely to be resisted, a brief policy statement of good records management practice may be more acceptable. A policy or statement should be backed up by detailed and specific guidelines and procedures, and normally reflect national and local laws, business needs, and organizational culture.

In the United Kingdom, the Code of Practice is proving to be a valuable tool for persuading organizations to take records management seriously by providing a quasi-statutory standard of good records management practice. It is an option that other countries should consider seriously.

Model Action Plans: Applicability Elsewhere

The Code of Practice is a statement of intent; the model action plans provide the means of implementing it. The National Archives produced or collaborated in the production of model action plans for central government, local government, higher and continuing education organizations, and police authorities. The model action plans set milestones against dates and cross-reference these to specific parts of the Code of Practice. Again, as with the Code of Practice, the action plans are designed to meet a very specific objective: to encourage public sector authorities in England and Wales to accelerate implementation of records management in order to support the FOI Act. Nonetheless, there is a wider potential.

Records management is an organizational function as well as a vital part of information management as a whole; it seeks to make certain that management structures are sufficient to ensure a coordinated approach to the management of information. Thus, the first action point in each of the model action plans is to "review the structure of the organization to see what changes might be required to achieve this objective (i.e., the implementation of the Code of Practice on Records Management)." There then follows a practical set of steps for achieving the requirements of the Code of Practice in full.

The sequencing of the milestones is practical, and the time allowed between milestones realistic. Of course, the model action plans are no substitute for sitting down with a professional project manager and developing an approach based on local knowledge and experience, but it can help to structure the process more clearly, which could lead to cost savings.

Modernising Government and Managing Electronic Records

The U.K.'s 1999 Modernising Government white paper sets out a program for moving services closer to citizens. It is important to point out that Modernising Government is a policy initiative, and so there are no sanctions for late or non-compliance. As stated earlier, a cornerstone of the policy framework is that 100 percent of services that can be delivered electronically should be delivered electronically by 2005. Tied to this, the U.K. government intends that all public records newly created by central government bodies will be electronically stored and retrieved by 2004. Although in practice many public bodies are likely to fail to achieve this target, nonetheless, it will become increasingly important that e-government is underpinned by the effective management of electronic records.

In order to support electronic records management implementation, the Office of the e-Envoy and the U.K. National Archives have published E-government Policy Framework for Electronic Records Management. This is reinforced by a substantial body of work produced by the National Archives, including a revised Functional Requirements for Electronic Records Management (Functional Requirements), metadata standards, and reference documents. These take account of developments in e-government, international standards, and information legislation.

Other key policies, standards, and guidance available to provide direction on the management of electronic records in the public sector in England and Wales include, but are not limited to,

* National Archives': Evidence-based Management of Information Resources Route Map and Milestones to Achieve Electronic Records Management by 2004 (Route Map)

* National Archives' Sustainable Electronic Records: Strategies for the Maintenance and Preservation of Electronic Records and Documents in the Transition to 2004 (Sustainable Electronic Records)

* Government Policy on Archives (December 1999)

* e-Government Interoperability Framework (e-GIF) (revised April 2001)

* e-Government Metadata Standard (e-GMS) (April 2002)

The National Archives also publishes general guidance and standards for electronic records and has developed a range of toolkits to address specific Route Map milestones in detail. These include:

* How to Produce a Corporate Policy on electronic records

* Toolkit for Compiling an Inventory of Electronic Records Collections

* Toolkit for Appraising the Inventory of Electronic Records

* Good Practice in Managing Electronic Documents Using MS Office on a Local Area Network

* Framework for Strategic Planning and Implementation

* Sustainable Electronic Records: Strategies for Maintenance and Preservation

* Management of Electronic Records on Web Sites and Intranets: An Electronic Records Management (ERM) Toolkit

Although these documents were written for public institutions in England and Wales, the Functional Requirements, Metadata Standard, and Route Map--with supporting toolkits--could have relevance to institutions outside the United Kingdom. In particular, these documents should be support of planning, raising awareness, and training initiatives.

Electronic Records Management Tools

The National Archives' Route Map provides a comprehensive methodology for implementing electronic records management as part of a larger records management program. Its milestones are common-sense, practical, and include the following targets for bringing existing records under control and designing e-records into e-business:

* developing a corporate policy on electronic records

* determining a strategy for ERM in e-business plans

* creating an inventory of existing electronic records

* identifying the requirements for ERM in business plans

* developing appraisal and preservation plans

With respect to integrating electronic records into policy and planning, the Route Map specifies the following milestones:

* writing a strategic plan for corporate ERM

* specifying detailed requirements for corporate ERM

* agreeing on an implementation plan

* implementing facilities and procedures for the management, control, and preservation of all new electronic records

Taken together, the LCD Code of Practice and the Route Map provide a logical framework for where and how to begin work in this area.

The electronic records toolkits provide guidance to departments and agencies to help them achieve the Route Map's milestones. Each of the toolkits is written in a clear and concise manner and is presented as a series of logical steps.

For example, the toolkit on developing a policy describes well the process of planning the policy, examining what a policy should cover, considering the policy framework within the organization, and then implementing the policy. Additional guidance is provided on the methods and mechanisms of a technical policy and a preservation policy. Example statements on policy requirements, records requirements, process requirements, transitional requirements, and linked policies also are provided.

The Sustainable Electronic Records toolkit helps establish a strategic plan to ensure that those records listed in departmental inventories are maintained as long as they are needed. It also instructs users in how to develop a compliant records sustainability plan, identify the access requirements for those records that will be maintained, and identify appropriate options for maintaining these records over time. The options covered include maintaining records in native format on their existing technical platform, keeping them in a standard format on their existing technical platform, migrating them in native format to new ERM systems, or migrating them in a standard format to new systems. Summary advice on the maintenance of structured databases and datasets--a topic that the National Archives plans to expand on at a later date in a separate toolkit--is also included.

In planning a program, the Route Map can be helpful to organizations outside the U.K. public sector. Establishing a similar route map for an organization also can provide a communications tool for explaining the development of the program to senior executives. Once a plan is agreed upon, the toolkits provide material that can be adapted easily for training purposes to help staff achieve planning targets.

The Functional Requirements and the accompanying metadata standards and reference documents also might be of interest to organizations planning or developing new systems outside the United Kingdom.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) 5015.2 requirements frequently are referred to as an excellent benchmark for functional and technical requirements for software design in U.S. organizations. DoD 5015.2 was one of several inputs to the United Kingdom's 1999 Functional Requirements, and it is worth noting that the 2002 version is derived directly from its predecessor. However, the new version provides greater detail, is easier to use, and offers more comprehensive records management functionality. Moreover, the need for good practice takes precedence over legal limitations, which are emphasized more in DoD 5015.2.

Still Testing

The toolkits produced in the United Kingdom were tested prior to being issued, but it is too early to tell whether they will have the revolutionizing effect intended by the National Archives. Moreover, the toolkits do not provide answers for all the technical problems associated with electronic records. For example, the United Kingdom is still only at the testing stage of methods for long-term digital preservation of electronic records. The U.K. National Archives recently embarked on trials of different preservation approaches and began collating the results of testing by other national archives, universities, and research institutions. A digital archive system is being developed and should be ready to receive records this year.

The U.K. example illustrates how far and how quickly the records management profession has moved in the last few years. Currently, there is a large body of policies, standards, guidance, and practical toolkits readily accessible over the Internet from which good practice can be derived.

Records managers must work within the strategic direction taken by the organization they support. The starting point is to understand that body's objectives that affect or are affected by recordkeeping so that services are placed within the context of those objectives.

Common objectives among public- and private-sector organizations include improving services through e-government or e-commerce, increasing the level of public confidence in the organization through better accountability, and improving the organization's information infrastructure. In helping to achieve these objectives through the planning and implementation of systems and practices, raising awareness, and training efforts, records managers should not limit themselves to examining guidance produced by a particular country or jurisdiction. Instead, programs will derive greater benefit from selecting appropriate materials from a variety of sources and modifying them to have relevance to their organization's needs. As a result, attention should continue to be called to policies, standards, and guidance that are well written, so they can serve as good practice examples to a broader community.


Digital Preservation. Available at (accessed 12 May 2003).

DIRKS Methodology (National Archives of Australia). Available at recordkeeping/dirks/summary.html (accessed 12 May 2003).

e-Government Interoperability Framework (e-GIF) and e-Government Metadata Standard (e-GMS). Available at (accessed 12 May 2003).

Freedom of Information Act 2000. Available at 20000036.htm (accessed 12 May 2003).

Lord Chancellor's Code of Practice on the Management of Records. Available at (accessed 12 May 2003).

Modernising Government white paper. Available at www.archive.official-documents. (accessed 12 May 2003).

Sustainable Electronic Records: Strategies for the Maintenance and Preservation of Electronic Records and Documents in the Transition to 2004. Available at (accessed 12 May 2003).

U.K. National Archives. Available at (accessed 12 May 2003).

U.K. National Archives' electronic records toolkits. Available at recordsmanagement/standards/default.htm (accessed 12 May 2003).

Victorian Electronic Records Strategy (VERS). Available at (accessed 12 May 2003)

Kimberly Barata and Piers Cain are partners at Missenden Consulting (U.K.) and specialize in archives, records management, and electronic records. They may be contacted at and
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Article Details
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Author:Cain, Piers
Publication:Information Management Journal
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 1, 2003
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