Research Issues in Australian Approaches to Policy Development
Electronic Records Meeting
May 29, 1997
The Archives Authority of New South Wales is currently implementing a new recordkeeping regime for the whole of the Public Sector in New South Wales. Documenting the Future - Policy and Strategies for Electronic Recordkeeping in the New South Wales Public Sector released in July 1995, outlines recordkeeping issues, strategies and policies required for the creation and management of electronic records to support government business and the role of the Archives Authority in implementing these initiatives. The work being produced and implemented as part of this framework is available on the Archives Authority Web Site <http://www.records.nsw.gov.au>.
The following is an attempt to identify what possible issues I feel are as yet unresolved and that we are facing in implementing the framework, particularly as they relate to electronic recordkeeping. I have also suggested areas for research that (with refinement!) may facilitate and support the resolving of the issues I have identified.
An important question to ask when addressing these issues (and an issue in itself) is to what extent are these unresolved issues particular to electronic recordkeeping or are they just issues that haven't adequately been addressed for recordkeeping generally?
1. Skills And Experience
The success of electronic recordkeeping initiatives requires an understanding of the issues and the environment within our own organisation, and our ability to educate and give practical advice to recordkeeping practitioners and other recordkeeping stakeholders. Whilst we are implementing a training strategy for electronic recordkeeping for use within the Archives Authority relevant to our circumstance, efforts in further developing and expanding such a strategy for government agencies requires determining what skills, level of skill and experience are required for electronic recordkeeping. From this basis effective strategies for ensuring that recordkeeping professionals have the necessary skills required for the management of electronic records may be developed and implemented.
In the course of implementing electronic recordkeeping initiatives we have assumed the need for building partnerships and the forming of a multidisciplinary approach. We, like our clients, don't always have the necessary skills and resources to develop and implement electronic recordkeeping initiatives on our own. What we have yet to determine is the best approach for the Archives and client organisations to take in forming partnerships and drawing on multidiciplinary expertise, and how to overcome territorial and resource based barriers to implement effective electronic recordkeeping. Our records management survey, conducted in 1996, indicates that few partnerships have been built between records managers and information technology professionals and where partnerships exists they may not be equal. What does a multidiciplinary approach entail and how extensively must it be implemented to initiate successful electronic recordkeeping?
This section could be called 'reality bites'. Many of the unresolved issues related to electronic recordkeeping are based on needing to know the qualitative and quantifiable benefits of electronic recordkeeping over traditional recordkeeping or are about the benefits of recordkeeping generally. Currently we are unable to prove that what we're proposing will work effectively or exactly how the electronic recordkeeping products will be implemented within agencies. We are planning to test the work of the Electronic Recordkeeping Project by conducting pilot projects, and have identified agencies willing to host testing of electronic recordkeeping products. However some agencies need us to provide evidence that what we are proposing will work, (and that it is supported nationally and internationally) and want to have evidence of what advantages electronic recordkeeping will provide to them. We need to determine exactly what aspects of electronic recordkeeping we need to qualify and quantify.
Related to the previous issue, we have as yet not tested how the recordkeeping regime framework as an integrated whole will work and how it will be used in practice within agencies for the benefit of electronic recordkeeping. Results of our records management survey indicate that many agencies are not coping with electronic recordkeeping and improvement required in the paper environment. The possible effect of the new State records legislation is largely unknown at this stage, even though it is the means by which we are implementing electronic recordkeeping policy. We are developing tools, which have had positive feedback, to help agencies in realising and implementing their recordkeeping responsibilities but how effective these will be is yet to be determined.
Documenting the Future detailed a new role and responsibility not only for the Archives but also for recordkeeping professionals. How is this new role being perceived by traditional archivists and records mangers both within the Archives and agencies? We have identified that we will 'steer' agencies through policies, standards, codes of best practice, and that much of the 'rowing' will be given to others who can provide such services eg. consultants. Is this role being accepted within business and is it being reflected by the professional organisations in which we belong?
Its a Brave New World. We are developing and preparing for the management of electronic records as archives, for example though the development of the Designing and Implementing Recordkeeping Systems Manual and the development of electronic recordkeeping skills within Archives and agencies. Though we have ideas regarding the exact form of what an effective management of Archives including electronic records will take, the exact approach is still very much in its infancy, as well as how it will work when implemented. What issues are we going to face in implementing the management of electronic records as archives?
Technological tools for doing business need to take into account recordkeeping issues in order to support the effective delivery of service. This will involve influencing software developers for the short term and long term protection of electronic records. To an extent this depends on our skills to effectively communicate electronic recordkeeping requirements in the course of using technological tools for business and our ability to influence product development with the support of like institutions and through joint ventures.
We are attempting to ensure that agencies electronic records are 'full and accurate' and can function as evidence. How this work will be used within courts and legal processes is not clear. We need to draw on existing case studies and legal expertise to develop guidance for government agencies.
I hope that the above will stimulate discussion as to possible research agendas for the recordkeeping community. Certainly, the work of the Archives Authority of New South Wales in electronic recordkeeping has been to date, and will continue to be, based on research and national and international best practice. It is important for our work that such forums as the Working Meeting on Electronic Records continues so that ideas can be exchanged and projects established that will help us move forward, implementing effective recordkeeping across the New South Wales Public Sector, facilitating business, and protecting our cultural heritage in the electronic environment.