SAA/CoSA/NAGARA 2018 recap: Session 103

Guest post by Cathrine Giles, State Records Branch Manager, Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives

Wicked problems are defined as societal problems that are complex, vitally important, ill-defined, and rely on contested political judgements for resolution. Even just defining the scope and nature of a problem can be difficult. We can use “wicked problems” to frame a number of challenges the archival profession faces in order to identify where our professional knowledge can be applied to wicked problems challenging society. This session, Archival Engagements and Recordkeeping Intersections with Wicked Problems, led by Eliot Wilczek (MITRE Corporation), examined three examples of wicked problems.

Snowden Becker (University of California, Los Angeles) presented first with “To Protect and (Pre)Serve: Making, Keeping, and Considering Police Records.” The wicked problem here is how to apply records management practices to body worn cameras and the footage they create, particularly since body worn cameras and their footage are uniquely invasive, voluminous, and easily manipulated.

Becker looked at property rooms as a form of archives and evidence management as a variety of archival practices. Identifying the common ground between evidence and archival management may allow us to work on solutions that are mutually beneficial. Archives and property managers have difficulty with integration of audio/visual into recordkeeping, and the divide between evidence that sits on a shelf and evidence that sits on a server is growing. Archives and property managers need better training, more resources, and better tools for handling collections related to trauma and the continued trauma the collections may bring to a community.

Becker ended by saying it’s important to avoid simplistic readings and speculations about consequences, and to ask important questions and engage with institutions we may find problematic.

Anne Gilliland (University of California, Los Angeles) presented next with “Refugees, Records, and ICT at the Borders of the State.” She reviewed several challenges that face the recordkeeping fields, such as incompatibilities and inadequacies in databases and problems with digitally integrating and accessing archival recordkeeping systems and holdings, and the issues that come out of these: data access vs data protection, tensions between the need for digital fixity and digital redundancy, to name a few. With these issues already facing the recordkeeping fields, the issues refugees face are even more compounded, especially since future lives and generations depend on what happens in the present.

Gilliland discussed how the Refugees Rights and Records Project (R3) is working to address the recordkeeping challenges faced by refugees. R3 wants to identify how the use of records play crucial roles in the lives of refugees; how the professionals involved in recordkeeping in affected countries might work in ICT implementation to identify, protect, and secure such records; and potential policy recommendations that support refugee rights into records. They strategize with parallel projects that have similar needs, concerns, and conclusions.

Eira Tansey (University of Cincinnati) was the final speaker and presented on climate change-related records with “Appraising the Archival Anthropocene.” Tansey suggested that assessing the lengths between recordkeeping and climate change helps us appreciate why climate change became a wicked problem. In appraising the records of climate change like we do an institution, you start with examining who has created what kinds of records in order to carry out which specific functions.

Tansey proposed three primary functions that climate change records perform: 1. Records establishing scientific consensus for climate change. 2. Records created to manipulate public policy by fostering doubt about climate change. 3. Records that provide accountability and suggest a path forward for justice. In the case study focusing on ExxonMobil, Tansey showed how these three functions applied. Recordkeeping has informed every stage of climate change as a wicked problem. However, because ExxonMobil is a private entity, the public does not have full access to their records; as a result, the appraisal of their records is limited to what has been released by them or obtained by a subpoena.

Tansey concluded by reminding the audience that records are never neutral. Records reflect the values of those that create them.

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