By Rick Barry November 30, 2005
Table of Contents
ARM: Archives and Records Management
CIO: Chief Information Officer(s)
ERPWG: Electronic Records Policy Working Group
HIPAA: Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996
ICGI: Interagency Committee on Government Information
NARA: National Archives and Records Administration
NHPRC: National Historical Publications and Records Commission
OMB: Office of Management and Budget
The Survey instrument with aggregate results is shown in Annex I. The below findings are further discussed in Annex II (Analysis of Survey Results) showing significant differences among respondent groups by profession, organizational location and creator/user categories with cross references to the Survey questions and question cross-tabs. Write-in comments are in Annex III.
· This survey was related to ERPWG's reports to the ICGI and not to the later ICGI report that disposed of those findings.
· Several ERPWG recommendations are already in planning and implementation in NARA, e.g., development of IT, legal and program staff training modules—it is not known to the author whether recommendations outside of NARA have been implemented.
· Though targeted at the US federal government, there is striking agreement (91%) on the relevance of the reports' findings including other sectors and internationally that suggest high expectations outside of the federal government that NARA will develop solutions that will be adaptable in smaller government and private sectors and internationally.
· Most respondents were unaware of the ERPWG reports.
· Most respondents learned of the ERPWG reports on professional discussion lists (54%) or from the Survey announcement (29%).
· Fewer than 2% of respondents—no ARM professionals—had commented to ERPWG
· Other related barriers and recommendations are also seen as critical.
· About two thirds of all respondents disagree with the proposition: agencies that create records (program departments) understand the respondent's working needs for records; 86% of respondents requiring almost daily access disagree.
· About half of all respondents agree with the proposition that the agencies that manage records understand respondents' working needs for records; but half of those requiring almost daily access disagree.
· In addition results on ERPWG findings, other useful information was revealed from other questions and feedback, e.g.: the need to more formally identify and systematically reach out to NARA "stakeholder" communities; and that there was no substantive discussion of ERPWG findings on principal ARM or historian professional lists.
Under the US "E-Government Act of 2002,'' the Interagency Committee on Government Information (ICGI) established the interagency Electronic Records Policy Working Group (ERPWG) to make recommendations to the Federal Chief Information Officers (CIO) Council (study sponsor), the Archivist of the United States and the Director, Office of Management and Budget (OMB) fostering effective management of federal electronic records. Under executive sponsorship of Lewis Bellardo, Deputy Archivist of the US and chaired by Michael Kurtz, Assistant Archivist for Federal Records (both of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)), ERPWG published "Effective Management of Government Information on the Internet and Other Electronic Records" in two reports, respectively on barriers and recommendations (hereinafter "findings").
Based on ERPWG's final report, the Executive Committee of ICGI sent its final report, "Recommendations for the Effective Management of Government Information on the Internet and Other Electronic Records," to OMB, December 16, 2004. ERPWG findings will be used by NARA, the CIO Council, the Office of Management and Budget and other federal government agencies for electronic records policymaking purposes.
This Survey attempted to determine the extent to which key users of records (including creators) and managers of records (archives and records management (ARM) professionals) were aware of and agreed with ERPWG findings and related issues. The 203 respondents were about evenly divided between users and managers. (See About This Survey section for survey limitations.)
The target communities for this Survey were the creators, users and managers of records. Underlying the rationale for the Survey were two beliefs:
Those who create, use and manage records are all key stakeholders in the development of policy and systems requirements and the execution of related ARM programs and services whose perspectives should be obtained.
If these are valid beliefs, even if we wish we could make it different, our concept of ARM stakeholders remains inward looking and worthy of review.
The Survey included demographic selections among: managers of records (archivists and records managers and related professionals); creators of records (program managers and staff); and users of records (historian, accountants/auditor, journalist, educators, lawyers/legal staff, other information managers (librarians, data administrators), CIO/CTO/IT Director/IT staff, program managers/program staff, consultants and vendors.
Managers of records constituted 41%, creators 7% and users 38% respectively. (See Annex II for a breakdown of respondents by disciplinary (Q1), organizational type (Q2) and creator/Manager/User (Q6) Categories.) While creators were treated as a separate group, they are also important users. When added to the other user groups, 45% of respondents were records users, making for a relatively evenly balanced set of respondents at that level.
This major stakeholder group includes archivists and records managers and related professionals, e.g., conservators, digital archivists, IT archivists, etc. (To avoid statistical confounding, two separate demographic groups were established in Q2: "US Federal government agency (non-NARA)" and "US Federal government agency (NARA)." Half of the NARA respondents counted themselves as archivists or records managers, which reveals a diversity of professional groupings (internal NARA stakeholder groups) that might come as a surprise to outsiders. That isn't to suggest that such a split is representative of the entire NARA staff population, which it probably is not. I assume that well more than half of the NARA staff is ARM professionals.
Without trying to read more into what may just have been luck-of-the-day reasons for that split, if NARA hasn't already done so, it could prove beneficial to survey NARA staff (with anonymity) to better understand the different perspectives of different internal NARA stakeholder groups including, for example, the extent to which non-ARM staff are more likely to be interested in electronic records issues than ARM professionals may be. (Q1x2)) The broad ARM stakeholder group is perhaps the one that is most easily reached for gaining feedback on draft reports, policies and standards regarding recordkeeping. They constituted 41% of responses to this Survey.
While there was no scarcity of announcements on professional lists by ERPWG staff, there is little evidence that they resulted in substantive professional discussion on the lists. The SAA and ARMA professional archives and records management associations did provide official association comments to ERPWG, but as I understand it this was not done through any association member surveys or circulation of requests for feedback from their respective members. And while it would have been preferable to have had a greater number of participants in this survey, the feedback it provides is vastly more than will be found on professional lists.
A search of the Archives List and Records Management (RECMGMT-L) List archives showed no scarcity of announcements concerning ERPWG and its reports and invitations to provide comments. NARA also posted invitations on its own Website, in the Federal Register and elsewhere. Two postings were made by the Archives Listserve Coordinator extending the ERPWG invitation to interested persons to provide written views on issues relating to “implementing section 207(e)(1)(A) of the E-Government Act of 2002,” and inviting interested parties to a March 30 ERPWG meeting (dated March 8, 2004 and March 14, 2004 respectively).
Another (October 22, 2004) posting from NARA (Nancy Allard) requested review and comment on a draft ERPWG document, "Recommendations for the Effective Management of Government Information on the Internet and other Electronic Records," for the Interagency Committee on Government Information (ICGI)http://www.cio.gov/documents/ICGI/ERPWG_Recommendations.pdf. The other postings were either “RAIN” postings by Peter A. Kurilecz or others, with press announcements regarding ERPWG, or were posts related to this Survey. However, despite ERPWG’s heroic measures to seek consultation on its process and reports and the announcements of this Survey, no substantive list postings on the ERPWG report findings were observed or found in the list archives.
Records are created by business processes in organizations—by program managers and staff and their systems, and by government historians working in program agencies—in the pursuance of laws and corporate aims and in the execution of related business functions. Program managers have considerable influence over the disposition management of the records produced within their functional areas. In many, if not most, organizations working-level program staff are also expected to make serious decisions about the recordness of papers and email that they produce and to see to it that those that they do declare as records get properly routed into a trustworthy manual or electronic recordkeeping environment.
Making this kind of approach work is largely dependent upon records managers providing adequate training for records creators. Records managers often say that they are uncomfortable in a teaching role, have little time for it, lack the necessary training skills and lack the clout to get program staff to show up for training that they do provide, in part because those staff also don't have the time for such training. In one client office where I was engaged, the director of human resources candidly confessed that the department was understaffed and unable to meet all organizational priorities, and recordkeeping was one that was one of the lowest of the list, despite the fact that the department was subject to HIPAA requirements. In any case, teaching people how to do recordkeeping properly is not the same thing as asking them how carrying out their recordkeeping roles could be better done, what their needs are, how the systems interfaces that capture records could be improved from their point of view, etc.
Good trainers will use the opportunities afforded by the training sessions to elicit views on such questions and to make certain that the answers get back to those responsible for ARM policymaking and requirements definition. Furthermore, program managers and staff, and government historians, are also among the most important records users. Direct input on recordkeeping policies and requirements definition from program managers and staff is therefore very important.
Much of the contact with the program community has been with the records managers within program agencies rather than with the front line executives and staff doing the core agency work. Certainly the better agency records managers do their best to reflect the views of their agency clients. Still, these reflections are through the eyes of records managers, no matter how prescient and disciplined. Moreover, among the commonly heard belief systems in the ARM community are:
§ records managers in the central recordkeeping functions are among the lower professional grades, often because they are lacking in educational credentials that are increasingly found among archivists;
§ most recordkeeping functions are low on the organizational totem pole and remote from executive contact;
§ senior managers of program departments seem to give little thought or priority to recordkeeping, especially where there is a higher management climate fostering reduction of public access to records; and
§ it is very difficult for records managers to reflect criticism on their own bosses and boss's bosses.
Thus, while their needs and perspectives are critical in any ARM policy making, agency records managers likely would be the first to say that they should not be regarded as substitutes for direct communications with senior level officials or working-level program staff. Indeed, often the main contact that central recordkeeping staff have with their program departments is through departmental "records coordinators" who may fill still lower-graded positions and carry out recordkeeping functions on a part-time basis. None of this is to denigrate the roles of either records managers or their departmental records coordinators, all of whom the organizational recordkeeping systems rely upon to make it work. Nor is it to suggest that their needs and perspectives should not be sought in developing requirements and policies. It is only to say that those views should be sought in their primary ARM roles as managers of records, not as creators of records.
Who are the user stakeholders? Who are the users of records? For public records, could we say that they are largely identifiable groups who rely in an important way on easy access to public records to carry out their day-to-day jobs? If so, wouldn't some of the most important users at all levels of government be auditors, inspectors general, government historians, and officers of the court? While academic and private sector historians have always been considered a key, if not the key, user professional community, much less is heard about the importance of government historians as key stakeholders who use and make important records. (Statistically speaking, genealogists likely constitute the largest NARA user stakeholder group.)
Records creators more generally also are, or should be, among the most important records users in the sense that organizational policymaking and operational decision-making should benefit in a very large way from corporate knowledge and lessons represented in current and legacy records in all analog and digital-media forms—the most basic of organizational knowledge assets, second only to human staff experience and memory. In this Survey, because of their small numbers, program managers and program staff are combined in reporting Survey results. They are also included in statistical references to records "users" when referencing results to Q6, "My interest in public records is principally as". Though it is rarely acknowledged, many if not most such users take for granted the continued presence of complete, well maintained and accessible public records at all levels of government. This is an increasingly questionable and risky assumption because of generally low priorities, staffing and other resource allocations for the ARM functions, especially in program agencies where records are created.
Users outside of government would certainly include genealogists (in this Survey they are assumed to have counted themselves among "other researchers" or "other") when answering Q1, " I am currently working as (select most applicable)". This group typically represents the largest group of users of archives by a long shot, as much as 75% or more in the national archives of some countries. Other key users outside of government include journalists, non-government historians, attorneys and the general public for other than genealogical purposes, especially at the local government level. Other users may not be making regular direct use of records but are nonetheless very interested stakeholders in government policymaking, standards and systems for both analog and digital records. These include educators (especially those involved in ARM academic programs), CIOs/IT directors and staff, many who are either responsible for ARM programs or are wrestling with electronic records issues, as well as consultants and vendors supplying ARM products or services. This is particularly likely for those who responded to this Survey.
Thus, it was important to try to reach as many of these communities as possible in a short period of time. As the Survey did not have a staff of researchers who could visit such communities, it was largely limited to the use of professional discussion lists. This turned out to be a daunting task that is discussed below.
Lack of more direct contact and engagement by ARM professionals with users may be both because many of the former feel more comfortable within their familiar professional environment, and because of experience with failed efforts to seek involvement of other stakeholder communities. There are noteworthy cases where archivists have engaged users from other disciplines to gain a better understanding of their needs and perspectives regarding records, recordkeeping and access to records with positive results. To mention a few, all but the last of which were funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC):
In the report on the "Secondary Uses of Electronic Records" project, which studied practices Anthony Cresswell recommends regular surveys of users and instituting advisory boards among mechanisms for engaging user participation in decision making. He later notes "Providing appropriate access is complicated by the mix of users, running from lay persons seeking small targeted items of information for personal use (e.g., parents seeking information about a school system), to policymakers working on national issues, to researchers seeking large data sets, ad hoc queries, or new sophisticated analyses… Their attention to the needs of their user community is also reflected in substantial investments in user support."
Similar beliefs have been expressed by well known practitioners and theorists in the ARM community. Terry Cook, former manager in the National Archives of Canada, now consultant, author and educator wrote: "[A]rchival thinking over the century should be viewed as constantly evolving, ever mutating as it adapts to radical changes in the nature of records, record-creating organizations, record-keeping systems, record uses, and the wider cultural, legal, technological, social, and philosophical trends in society. Archival ideas formed in one time and place reflect many of these external factors, which ideas are often reconstructed, even rediscovered in another time and place, or reshaped across generations in the same place."
Historians have always been considered a key, if not the key, user professional community. This is engrained in recordkeeping DNA going back to the time when archivists were almost always historians by education and training and when the general belief was that records were kept for later historical research, by historians. Only in the mid-twentieth century when leading archivists saw the growing need to gain special administrative and technical skills (description, appraisal, conservation) did the archives profession begin to spin off on its own, although even then many still obtained history credentials. At the same time, a body of archival theory began to evolve including a belief that appraisal should be a totally objective process with little or no consideration for the perceived needs of historians or other users. Who knows to what extent this came about because of a genuine belief that records had a life of their own that had to be protected and not tainted by the temporal needs of any group, or because of competition between the new professional archivist group and the long established professional historians? Or both?
This is not the place for a review of that literature; however, perhaps the best and most current summary of the history of these developments is Tom Nesmith's "What's History Got to Do with It?" Nesmith made numerous references to the changing user, especially historians: "[S]ociety’s historical information needs have been radically transformed since the 1970s, in volume, variety, and complexity, and we find ourselves in need of responding to that with the new ways of employing historical information in our work... Indeed, we cannot advance the administrative, technical, and contemporary aspects of the profession’s agenda without doing so."
While there were high hopes that many historians would participate in that conference, their representation was woefully sparse as noted by Terry Cook in his closing conference remarks. Cook pointed out how historians typically bury archival references in footnotes or endnotes, and any discussion of sources to prefaces, in contrast to how other social scientists credit their sources, and discus their problematic natures, right in the main text of the body of their writings. Cook suggests this as a metaphor not so much for the relative value that many historians place on archives and archivists, as for their failure to engage in the relative, changing, and problematic nature of those sources and of "the archive."
One prominent presidential historian recently put it to me this way: I'm working on President [X] right now. The only records or records issues I'm interested in are those directly related to President [X]. Historians are very busy people and they don't have time to engage with archivists about recordkeeping more generally. This is consistent with the experiences related by other historians in private discussions, i.e., that their attempts to raise discussion about records and recordkeeping issues with their historian colleagues simply don't generate interest.
In an exchange on interdisciplinary communications where this subject recently came up on the RECMGMT discussion list, former American Archivist editor and current editor of Records and Information Management Report (RIMR), Richard Cox, took issue with this point of view:
"Historians and other scholars are pretty much locked in to their conferences, and they are also more focused on writing for publication, publishing in scholarly journals and monographs (and while there have been more opportunities for e-publishing, much of the scholarly communication remains traditional peer-review print outlets). In other words, we can see the same barriers between records professionals and scholars as we face in our own records and information profession community."
Cox did not totally disagree. "I am not arguing that some of the problems discussed…are not serious...These are serious problems (although when it comes to the scholarship of records and information management professionals, there may be problems far more serious – such as continuing weaknesses in research, over reliance on basic textbooks, and educational preparation of practitioners), but there may be a number of positive signs and potential solutions to these problems…."
Cox pointed to examples of historians who do take considerable interest in records, "such as Roy Rosenzweig, who are even reading our literature and debating with us about some of the most fundamental aspects of digital preservation and the definition of records. Reading the work of scholars such as Donna Merwick, Robert Darnton, Thomas Tanselle, Barbie Zelizer, JoAnne Yates, and the list could go on . . . , is essential for records professionals" He suggested some remedies for improved interdisciplinary communications:
Establishment of clearinghouses of interdisciplinary writing. The SAA is extending its publication project coverage with historians and other scholars.
Provide more opportunities for interdisciplinary writing and reading. Archivists tend to limit their reading to the American Archivist, records managers to the Information Management Journal. RIMR readership includes both.
Archivists and records managers also needed to do better. "[W]e need to design conferences that bring together archivists and other records professionals with the scholars who use the holdings of our programs. I have been recently involved in beginning to design a conference that will invite key historians and archivists to dialogue about the meaning of archives in public memory and understanding. The idea behind it is to develop a venue for sustained in depth discourse about how archivists and historians (and other scholars) perceive archives and their use and meaning – exactly the kind of dialogue that is difficult to achieve at existing professional conferences that don’t always attract the right mix for such discussion or that conflict with academic, professional, and vacation schedules."
In a 2003 Federal Computer Week column, I quoted a posting of Air Force historian Eduardo Mark on the H-DIPLO professional discussion list: "It will be impossible to write the history of recent diplomatic and military history as we have written about World War II. Too many records are gone, and with [them] public accountability of government and rational public administration." Private feedback on that column from other government officials confirmed Mark's comment. Subsequent conversations with such individuals indicate that little has changed since that time.
Tom Blanton, Director of the non-profit National Security Archive has expressed reservations concerning Mark's view. He sites cases such as the hugely increasing volumes of White House email and the New York Times reconstruction of the final minutes inside the World Trade twin tower buildings during the September 11 attacks from presumably personal family voicemail and email records and from police and fire department audio tapes. These examples suggest that historians may be inundated with electronic records: "This does not refute Ed Mark’s point in the least, because the disappearance of computer-based files at the operating level is a very real and very dangerous problem. But at policymaking levels, our problem as historians will likely be too many sources, not too few, and it is only their preservation as digital files that will allow us to overcome the numbers and actually work through them." But "disappearance of computer-based files at the operating level," is a key point of Mark's premise. Moreover, few will argue that there isn't an almost unmanageable amount of electronic records being produced. In fact, the lack of manageability is a big part of the problem.
And are the records of "policymaking levels" the only or always the most important levels? One Department of Defense records manager, reflecting on the above Federal Computer Week column wrote:
I read your article "Saving the Future Now" that was in the Federal Computer Week, June 2, 2003 edition.
I am glad to see people write about recordkeeping issues. You are correct that agency heads, legislators, journalists, auditors, lawyers, and historians do not support recordkeeping practices, sound or otherwise.
Did you know the [Agency] does not audit their records….
Another problem is the low pay recordkeeping officials receive….
Command nonaction and low pay
is why recordkeeping and the other programs are in such disarray. Up to
the early 90s recordkeeping was in pretty good shape. We had the salaries
and the personnel to perform the mission. However, in the late 80s and early
90s is when we started getting the cuts in personnel. My office was
reduced …[by three quarters of its staff and at least two grade levels]. We are
trying to handle the same programs and the same responsibilities. We are
no longer able to go out and evaluation offices on their recordkeeping practices
as we did in the 80s. This practice ensured records were being kept and
long-term records were being captured and turned in for forwarding to Federal
Records Centers and to NARA. Even the development of electronic storage
systems will not curb the destruction of long-term records. The [Agency]
is trying to develop a program to capture long-term electronic records
electronically. Unless the records managers are able to visit the offices
and ensure the action officers are aware of the requirements, we still will not
properly capture long-term records. Also, action officers are going to
need recordkeeping training. Since recordkeeping is such a low priority,
actions officers do not attend this type of training. Also, we do not
have the staff to conduct such training. As [the senior records manager],
I am only able to devote a small percentage of my time to recordkeeping.
My other duties are marked as higher priorities by command.
Until Congress takes the bull by the horns, DOD will not change its recordkeeping practices. The FBI finally grabbed the horns and is trying to do something. However, it looks like they are upscaling their high up management, but what are they doing for the low level recordkeeping personnel? Are they hiring more staff, increasing salaries to retain or hire qualified personnel? The lower level recordkeeping personnel need the most help, they are the ones that have to ensure action officers save the data they create.
In a November 2005 posting to the H-Diplo discussion list, Dr. Mark, one of a small handful of historians speaking to recordkeeping issues stated:
I must note in conclusion that one of the most serious obstacles to a redress of the national crisis of record-keeping resides in the yawning indifference of historians to it. I have agitated this issue for some years, finding that with only the rarest exceptions historians are so narcissistically engaged in their own research that they care not a whit for their professional descendants. The issue of declassification arouses them, predictably, but the usual attitude toward the problem of record-keeping is, "I've got mine. After all, the Eisenhower Administration kept good records." Even organizations that style themselves champions of declassification, and which, like so-many bloodhounds, will pursue records under the FOIA to prove that he United States was beastly to their favorite third-world dictators, have remained resolutely indifferent to the crisis of record-keeping. They have theirs - or will in time.
One needn't agree with every view of Mark's to recognize him as a historian-champion of improved electronic recordkeeping in a community that could use a few more like him.
Beyond these serious issues regarding the management of records, it would further seem that a great many electronic records are not being captured at all, let alone into trustworthy recordkeeping environments where, with the necessary resources, they could be properly managed and preserved. Yes, there are many personal records from the front in Iraq in the form of email from military personnel to their families, as there were letters from the front in World War II. But are families keeping copies of those as they did in the Civil War and subsequent wars? Such records constitute important personal electronic records (another important subject that has received little attention in the ARM community, even surprisingly among manuscript archivists, where professional focus is nearly always limited to organizational archives).
But then what about those that are not being captured but are created by people and systems carrying out organizational business processes? And what about modern corporate and political leaders, philanthropists, authors, scientists, military leaders and others whose personal records traditionally have been the subject of manuscript archives? Aren't important people in these categories increasingly maintaining their own personal records in electronic form like the rest of us, including email and possibly Weblogs (blogs), Websites and wireless appliances? If so, how will we approach what David Rothman, in his TeleRead blog, refers to as the Tower of Babel of proprietary, incompatible publication formats? Won't this require open standards, open source viewers and other tools for capturing such records very early and in the future accessing and intelligibly reading them?
During the panel discussion that ensued following presentations at NARA's 20th anniversary as an independent agency, having earlier been asked to stimulate some panel discussion, I made the provocative assertion: few authors from the user communities publicly acknowledge in their writings how much they rely upon easy access to trustworthy records and more generally the importance of records to their work. One of the panel members, non-government, Cold War historian Timothy Naftali, reacted that historians were not relying much now on archives for their primary source material. This is an important view from an important representative of the historian user community. The comment certainly got my attention, as I expect it did for many others in attendance at that session, in the room or as remote participants in the Webcast. The ARM community should be very interested to learn more about how prevalent this view is among historians and other users, and ask the question: if it is prevalent, why is it so? Is it because the records aren't there? Because they aren't easily accessible? Because we don't fully understand the working needs of historians and other users relating to records?
Bruce Craig, Editor of the NCH Washington Update, announced the ERPWG reports and this Survey in the National Coalition for History’s NCH Washington Update during the course of ERPWG's work. On the history lists there was one posting by government historian Maarja Krusten (on the History Network News (HNN)) http://hnn.us/ announcing the Survey and inviting historians to make their views on the ERPWG findings known through the Survey. In response, one historian complained about “boilerplate bureaucratese” that was followed by a thoughtful response by Ms. Krusten.
http://hnn.us/readcomment.php?id=50071#50071 HNN editor, Richard Shenkman also kindly published a second announcement of the Survey. Searches of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) and American Historical Association (AHA) sites yielded no results. In addition to Maarja Krusten’s postings on HNN, and by courtesy of colleague Terry Cook, announcements of this survey also appeared on the Ten Thousand Year Blog, the Government Information Locator Service (GILS), Women's Historians (H-WOMEN), and History Canada (H-CANADA) discussion lists.
I do not know how many academic, private sector and government historians made their views known directly to ERPWG, but 31 of them did so in this Survey. At least that is a start.
There is much less that can be said about other user groups of records in this Survey. Efforts to contact senior members or insiders of audit, accounting, journalist and court groups were either not answered or the group had no easy vehicle to disseminate an invitation to participate in the survey, such as discussion lists. I had asked hoped that ARM professionals would request their own program offices, CIOs, auditors and attorneys to participate. Except for a small number of program staff and CIOs/IT staff, this didn't happen. For most of these groups, their input can not significantly be considered in their subgroups, but can be considered collectively as part of the larger user community. Similarly, there is no easy way to get to the general public with a survey, unless done by a well funded project by a group such as the Pew Research Center, part of the Pew Charitable Trust, which would be an excellent thing to do.
There were 203 respondents to this Survey. This figure might have been a good deal larger had it not been for lack of success in reaching key groups of records creators (program officers and staff) and records users (historians, journalists, auditors, inspectors general, etc.) due to the absence of, lack of knowledge of, or lack of access lists for most of those groups. Where there was relatively easy access to and credibility with the ARM professional community though professional lists, it was possible to get reasonable participation taking account of the timing of the Survey. I lacked such access to lists for creator and user groups. Attempts at contacting of accounting/auditing and journalists' professional associations proved unsuccessful. Adding to this was short staffing in public and private sector organizations due to end-of-year holidays and (in Washington) Inauguration Day during December 2004 and January 2005 when the Survey was undertaken. Many employees who were on the job were backing up one or more of their absent colleagues.
These factors limit what can be taken from the Survey results and I do not wish to overstate what can be read from the results. Nonetheless, many fine research projects obtain excellent input from a relative handful of staff in focus-group inquiries, so long as such groups are representative for the purposes of the research. In this case, historians were the best represented discipline in the users group, constituting 15% of the total respondent population. However, when grouped with other user communities (records creators (who are also key users), educators, IT, educators, journalists, CIO/IT staff, consultants/vendors and other researchers) there was nearly an equal representation between users and managers of records. Thus, if not on a profession-specific level except possibly historians, there was good representation at the overall user/manager level. On this level the Survey is credible and should produce useful results. Where more results were limited by the numbers of stakeholders responding, hopefully this report will stimulate further follow-up work by ERPWG, NARA and others on issues raised here.
Part of the value of surveys such as this is that they help raise awareness to important reports and hopefully create interest and feedback on important issues. This view is supported by findings of other public and client-based surveys of ARM issues with which I have been associated, including the "Report on the Society and Archives Survey," (2003) and a survey done as part of an early UN study of electronic records, "Managing Electronic Records: Issues and Guidelines," (1987-90). In the latter case, most responding organizations were not treating email as record material. A follow-up study done three years later revealed that the earlier report had been a wake-up call for many UN organizations and email was being addressed in policies. This also happened with this Survey.
Because of announcements on the ARM and history professional lists, many who had not been aware of the ERPWG work became so and responded to the Survey. It was thus possible to obtain substantive feedback on the ERPWG findings from over 200 respondents who had not otherwise made their views known on any list and, for the great majority, had not earlier been aware of the reports or commented on them directly to ERPWG or through their agency representatives on the ERPWG team.
Overall, the ERPWG findings found great resonance among the respondents to this Survey—just short of unanimous agreement (Q22). There is no significant standard deviation in this observation among the respondent groups by professional category (Q1) or organizational type. (Q2) Moreover, only one respondent (consultant/vendor) disagreed with the applicability of the findings. (Q1x22, Q2x22) Otherwise, where respondents didn't agree, they indicated that they didn't know with a few who said they didn't care.
A "Don't Care" response selection was included for applicable Survey questions where I felt that was a legitimate response that should not necessarily have a negative connotation but rather might simply reflect that a particular subject is seen as being of little or no concern or interest to the respondent. We might gain tips for ARM education and training efforts from a significant incidence of such responses to a particular question. As it turns out, there were 21 such selections for the 14 questions where "Don't Care" was among the multiple choices. The highest incidence of this response was "Program people are too busy or worried about their jobs to worry about records or recordkeeping and bosses aren't going to press them," (Q16) among "Other Barriers" with which over three fourths agreed. These results speak very highly to the quality of the representatives on ERPWG, the consultations it undertook and its related staff work.
More efforts should be invested to reach out to key records users groups to engage them as stakeholders on issues and requirements for improved recordkeeping in general and electronic recordkeeping in particular. Similarly, more effort is needed to reach the broader mass media to help gain greater public understanding and appreciation of the importance of inviolate records in protecting citizen's human rights and supporting our democratic institutions through the rule of law; and for what national, state and local government, and academic and private sector ARM professionals do and why. Part of the feedback received during the review of the draft of this report reflected a view that NARA has not been as attentive or successful in its outreach efforts as it needs to be, possibly because it does not see itself as having the resources, skills or mandate to do so effectively. This is consistent with findings of the earlier "Report on the Survey on Society and Archives" including:
Where it is seen as having an opinion, society values records mainly for their genealogical, historical, cultural and secondary information and research content (ranked 1, 2, and 3 respectively) and much less for the loftier values that professionals typically consider of importance to civil society: protection of human rights; creating and maintaining public confidence in government; enabling government by the rule of law; and promoting democracy through public accountability of its officials.
It is not clear to what extent the stakeholder groups outlined in this report are already part of a standing NARA stakeholders list. My understanding is that while NARA makes considerable use of "stakeholders" it has not yet defined what those groups constitute, neither for NARA or the ARM community more broadly. It is my experience serving on NARA advisory committees that several groups that would appear to be important to NARA (and ARM) were not represented. It is recommended that such groups be identified (conceivably somewhat different depending on the function being considered) and reached, where appropriate through representatives of their professions within NARA. For example, accountants and auditors could be approached by NARA executives in those professions through their professional associations or by collaboration with the Government Accountability Office. Given the fact that the "standards to include recordkeeping compliance in audits and inspector general reports" was considered critical by 79% of respondents, further consideration of this recommendation should be explored with the audit community.
Similarly, inspectors general and journalists could be approached by their NARA counterparts.
This reference to the inspectors general as an important stakeholder group underscores the importance of the first recommendation of the ERPWG report that:
NARA and OMB (Office of Management & Budget) work together with the Inspector General community through the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency (PCIE) and the Executive Council on Integrity and Efficiency (ECIE) to identify appropriate mechanisms for evaluating compliance with existing legislation and establish incentives for agencies to take action to properly manage and protect their records as valuable Government assets."
It seems apparent from the results of questions concerning the responsiveness to the records needs of respondents on the part of the creators and managers of records (Q7-8, Q1x7-8, Q2x7-8) that more could profitably be done to consult with and gain better understandings of the needs of subgroups in different stakeholder groups, for example, academic, private-sector, public sector and even international historians. In some cases, ten or more percent of respondents answered "Don't Know". Perhaps these are simply explained by the fact that there was a diversified group of respondents, at various levels of the public and private sectors and internationally who simply may not have understood some of the federal-speak in the ERPWG findings.
The high figures disagreeing with the responsiveness of records creators in meeting records needs of respondents, and especially in NARA and the ARM community more generally, are consistent with findings of the ERPWG reports. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of this issue with respect to the quality of records and recordkeeping in records-creating organizations and to the missions of NARA and other similar agencies at the national, regional and local levels of government. It suggests that more consideration be given to further exploring remedies beyond those already articulated in the ERPWG findings. This is an issue that has been the source of complaints by ARM professionals for many years. In fact, it isn't just one issue, but potentially a set of issues: legislation, compliance, outreach, education, training, leadership, etc. Examples of such possibilities might include:
Similarly, where there was little or no representation among respondents in other important stakeholder groups, such as journalists, attorneys, auditors, inspectors general, etc. This is particularly true in the latter two groups, given that the highest ranked recommendation of all those offered beyond those outlined in the ERPWG findings was the establishment of standards to include recordkeeping compliance in audits and inspector general reports, which 79% of respondents considered critical.
International respondents constituted an important segment of Survey respondents, reflecting a high level of interest in ERPWG and related studies and standards. Many professionals in other countries clearly would like to be considered stakeholders in key NARA policymaking, research and implementation initiatives. As a minimum, NARA can ensure that US federal lingo is explained in reports so that those who wish to use them as models for consideration in their own countries are better positioned to do so. Beyond that, NARA might consider inviting comments from international sources on such initiatives.
The ERPWG study and findings have made an important contribution for policymaking, planning and implementation of sound federal government recordkeeping. They also make a considerable contribution to the needs of ARM professionals and practitioners of all stripes and in all organizational settings. Where the focus of those reports was on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of federal government recordkeeping, the focus here has been on the wide and diverse communities of users of those records.
Hopefully, the results of this Survey will give further impetus to the NARA vision that speaks to its role as the:
public trust on which our democracy depends. We enable people to inspect for themselves the record of what government has done. We enable officials and agencies to review their actions and help citizens hold them accountable. We ensure continuing access to essential evidence that documents: the rights of American citizens; the actions of federal officials; the national experience.
The NARA Vision Statement continues:
To be effective, we at NARA must do the following:
§ determine what evidence is essential for such documentation
§ ensure that government creates such evidence
§ make it easy for users to access that evidence regardless of where it is, where they are, for as long as needed
§ find technologies, techniques, and partners worldwide that can help improve service and hold down cost
§ help staff members continuously expand their capability to make the changes necessary to realize the vision
… to which I would respectfully recommend adding:
§ systematically determine who are the users of records, in and out of government, and encourage new groups of users by seeking their perspectives on records and their access needs; and
§ find solutions for providing improved access to records that will serve not only the needs of the federal government but, to the extent practical, other stakeholders less well positioned to develop such solutions—other levels of government, other institutions and their users.