Making Policy Work: Creating and Implementing Information Guidance in the Age of Open Government
Christopher Magee from NARA kicked off the session by discussing the importance of policies: they can help you improve consistency across your organization. When creating policies, be sure to include as many users as possible and be transparent about your work and overall purpose. Be sure to consider immediate as well as long-term business needs.
Gail Snow from King County Records and Archives in Seattle, Washington spoke on promoting transparency during the policy creation and implementation process. King County is a large and complex local government where it is extremely difficult to get any policy adopted across the entire county. Some of the challenges include having policies which technically only apply to the executive branch of government as well as providing policy guidance to employees who are not stationed at a traditional desk. One solution that worked for them involved prioritizing the overall records management policy, an on-boarding policy, and an exiting/transferring employee policy, as these were common functions throughout the entire county. They also leveraged services provided by the RM program to get buy-in from other government branches and elected officials. In addition, they used the county’s Public Records Committee to sponsor policies. To increase transparency and accountability, they have pushed all RM policies to the web.
Sheliah Brous from Maryland Department of Transportation presented on the process of policy creation in MDOT. MDOT has a strong focus on the needs of the end user. All others provide support to that overall mission. MDOT underwent a number of changes in 2015, including new Public Information laws and RM laws, which are driving change to new prioritization of transparent policies. MDOT must deal with inherited records, including first conducting inventories to know what they have. While they have good commitment from the administration for the development of RM policies and programs, they have concerns regarding funding and financial burden, as creating a records management program may be perceived as “taking” money from other crucial projects, such as road improvement projects. MDOT’s solutions have included focusing on low-hanging fruit and hiring established records managers to help build the program. They have begun to draft policies and schedules.
Wendy Crouch from the U.S. Department of Commerce focused on how to archive “golden nuggets” and revise an outdated policy. The Department of Commerce’s policy was redundant and obsolete. They began with a simple idea: what was the goal of the policy, and what should be included in it? They also considered their target audience for the policy and identified stakeholders, particularly senior leaders. They began with the end in mind to draft a policy that was useful to the organization. Challenges they faced included an explosion of records, both in paper and electronic format, as well as a large quantity of data. They found that most policies worked well for paper but were not great for handling data, particularly proprietary data. They would like to develop better policies to address siloed data, as there is great value in shared data.
After the panel, speakers asked questions regarding failed policies. Gail described how a text message policy for King County was struck down at the last minute and thus became a guidance document. A question was also asked regarding whether these organizations had designated historians. While some offices did have a historian with whom records managers needed to develop positive relationships, there was also discussion regarding informal historians within the organizations and how programs could capture that information via methods such as oral histories.