Advocacy and Records Management

There is a school of thought that traditional records management is dead, a remnant of the past along with paper-based technologies. This is not entirely accurate. We know that records management continues to play, or has the potential to play, a vital role in the larger information governance framework.

Defining information governance is rather difficult. I particularly like Gartner’s official definition:

“Information governance is the specification of decision rights and an accountability framework to encourage desirable behavior in the valuation, creation, storage, use, archival and deletion of information. It includes the processes, roles, standards, and metrics that ensure the effective and efficient use of information in enabling an organization to achieve its goals.”

Information governance can be interpreted as a broad and inclusive framework or broad and exclusive. In Courtney Bailey’s survey of the membership to SAA’s Records Management Section, nearly 700 members belong to an academic institution or to a cultural/nonprofit organization. Approximately another 225 belonged to a governmental records management program. Just over 100 of our fellow section members identified themselves with a corporate organization.   

By and large, members of this section might not find ARMA’s Information Governance Implementation Model particularly inclusive. Within this figure, where do cultural heritage organizations such as libraries, museums, and archives reside? Perhaps with the vision-setting Steering Committee? This would presuppose that LAM environments are viewed as institutional information management authorities rather than as a cultural boon or as support services.

In Jackie Esposito’s Institutional Placement Survey – Records Management and Archival Services (published June 2017), nearly 40% of respondents reported that the placement of their institution’s records management program was in the archives; nearly 28% reported ‘Other‘, identifying units such as Library, Museum, IT, and the President’s Office. Of all the respondents, exactly half stated that while there is a Records Management Program in their organization, it “is more consultative in nature and not robust enough to manage 100% compliance”.

One can surmise that for many of us, while records management exists in our organizations, we often wield limited political power. How do we change this? Do we want to change this? Are we equipped with the appropriate labor and infrastructure to expand our reach? What exactly are we offering to the table at large? Can we deliver on our promises?

Regardless of the answers to these questions, we have a place on this hypothetical Steering Committee. The value we place on cultural memory, community partnerships, evidence, and historical record-building cannot be undervalued, nor should this value be underemphasized.

One area I believe we can cultivate is advocacy, represented on the above model as Service, Capabilities, Processes, and Authorities. Advocacy and outreach are complementary, but not synonymous. Advocacy is a political process in which an individual or group aims to influence policymaking. It is not enough to get our constituency to use the preferred archival boxes and folder list templates, to make them aware of our reading room availability. We need to know what we need, how to get it, and how to keep it.

Skills like negotiation, coalition building, risk assessment, change management, grand strategy – these are important qualities to cultivate, especially so for people who want to affect real change in the workplace. How do we grow and cultivate these skills? A traditional answer will include experience, but that surfaces even more questions – when contingent labor is de rigueur, how can archivists and records managers gain that political experience, especially when it is gained through interactions with the records creators themselves? Through committee work and policy engagement? Through previous work experiences?

In the course of the next year, it is my hope to explore these issues with you and to bring some voices to this conversation. Please stay tuned and as always, don’t hesitate to reach out to me with questions, comments, and suggestions.

 

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