Government 2.0 Taskforce » Information Management Design by Ben Crothers of Catch Media Tue, 04 May 2010 23:55:29 +0000 en hourly 1 Capturing and preserving authentic and accessible evidence of Government 2.0 (Part Two) Mon, 14 Sep 2009 00:58:19 +0000 Adrian Cunningham This is the second of two blog posts about what Government 2.0 means for the world of archives, records and information management. I’ve gone back and added a “Part One” to the title of the first post.

Government archives are institutions with split personalities. On the one hand they are heritage and research centres with a strong cultural focus. On the other hand they are key institutions of accountability, integrity and good governance. Archives hold the evidence of public administration (both good and bad). As such, and in the words of Senator John Faulkner, they are the ultimate accountability institutions.

These days archives don’t just sit at the end of the information life cycle and sweep up the detritus of long-forgotten activities and provide them with a safe home – although there are of course times when we are required to do just that. Because good recordkeeping is an essential enabler of efficient and accountable democratic governance, and because archivists have records and information management expertise, today’s archives are active participants in current public administration.

Talking to government agencies about the need to take recordkeeping and information management seriously can often be a thankless task – but it is one that has to be done. It is not just tomorrow’s archives that are at stake here, it is the very foundations of our democratic system of government. The Government 2.0 focus on maximising access to and use of public sector information helps highlight the importance of good information management in government. You cannot make PSI available if you don’t know what you’ve got and your systems and processes are incapable of managing those resources properly. The role of audit and compliance here is also critical and includes both the Australian National Audit Office and the proposed new Office of the Information Commissioner.

Good information management does not just ‘happen’. It requires a supportive organisational culture and it requires the clever design of systems and work processes that can make it easy for the organisation to capture and manage its vital information assets as a natural and organic part of the running of the organisation’s business. Web 2.0 technologies provide both challenges and opportunities in this context. See for instance a book recently published in the UK by Steve Bailey called Crowded Out: Records Management and the Web 2.0 Phenomenon (Facet, 2008). How to capture and preserve dynamic web-based resources as records has been a challenge that has occupied the minds of records professionals for a number of years now – and the spread of blogs and wikis has not made this challenge any easier to resolve.

Success will require collaboration between creating/hosting organisations and archival institutions. Mere web harvesting, while it has a role to play, is no real solution. Indeed treating such resources as static information objects to be preserved is probably the wrong paradigm altogether. A better approach is to abandon object-oriented thinking and instead adopt event-oriented thinking. Users experience the Web (indeed also any digital platform) as a series of event-based interactions or performances. Identifying the important events for which evidence needs to be captured and retained is the key here.

This can be done through a mixture of research and analysis of legal and administrative requirements for records, process analysis, risk analysis and stakeholder consultation where useful and possible. Once you have done that it is a relatively simple matter of designing systems and processes for capturing that evidence together with sufficient metadata documenting the context of these events. All events that are enabled by Web technology, regardless of how dynamic and interactive the wider process might be, generate traces (stings of zeros and ones) that are capable of being captured as records. This kind of thinking is, however, yet to catch on and until it does we will all continue to struggle with making and keeping records of web-based activities in all their various and evolving manifestations.

An interesting resource in this context is a short paper on preserving blogs (PDF – 243k) prepared by Digital Preservation Europe. I am grateful to Mark Brogan of Edith Cowan University for alerting me to this source.

Persistent access to web-based resources is another challenge – not only because the Web places a premium on the currency of information but also because regular changes to the machinery of government and regular overhauls of agency websites mean that URLs are unlikely to persist for more than a year or two. We have all been frustrated by ‘link-rot’, where hyperlinks take you to a non-existent webpage. Various attempts at designing persistent URL resolver services have failed to catch on, so we probably have no choice but to accept link-rot as a fact of life. Ever-changing URLs are bad enough – but the total disappearance of web resources is much worse.

Once again archives and libraries have to collaborate with authoring/publishing agencies to help ensure the persistent availability of government web resources – the essential evidence of online governance in our democracy. If a government agency says something over its website today, citizens whose rights and entitlements can depend on this advice are entitled to expect that information will still be available tomorrow if it ever needs to be referenced, questioned or cited.

The longevity and interoperability over time of digital information resources is of course a major professional concern of archives. The accepted wisdom is to encourage use of open, standards-based file formats and to build and maintain distributed networks of ‘trusted digital repositories’. But that is a whole other topic and I think I have rambled on quite long enough in this blog post.

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Liberating heritage collections (Part One) Fri, 11 Sep 2009 04:37:21 +0000 Adrian Cunningham What does Government 2.0 mean for the world of archives, records and information management more broadly? The short answer is, much more than you might have thought. A longer answer follows (in somewhat discursive form)…..

First of all it provides a tremendous opportunity to unlock the hidden potential of archival collections. Public institutions in Australia hold hundreds, probably thousands, of shelf-kilometres of archival materials. Because of funding and other practical limitations the majority of this material is difficult to get access to. Because archives are created in the course of organisations and individuals going about their business, they are not created with a view to making it easy for some future researcher to find their way through them.

Archival catalogues and finding aids aim to assist researchers navigate their way through these collections, but the sheer bulk of most public archives and relatively small number of archivists employed to catalogue them inevitably means that, for most archival holdings, researchers need to be clever, persistent and a little lucky to find what they might be looking for. Add to this the fact that the physical location of original paper records is usually hundreds or thousands of kilometres away from where most Australians live and it is not surprising that very few rarely ever darken the doorstep of an archival institution, much less pluck up the courage to try to make sense of the often bewildering catalogues and finding aids.

The advent of the Web has been changing that paradigm, such that now many archives have web interfaces to their finding aids and are busy placing digitised copies of records on the web for easy (though not always free) access. Statistics tell us that this approach to providing access to archives is overwhelmingly popular with both established and new users. Indeed, community expectations are such that if archival resources are not available on the Web they may as well not exist as far as the overwhelming majority of users are concerned. Web 2.0 offers an almost infinite array of possibilities for opening up avenues for access to and use of these resources. There are enormous possibilities for mashups, clever visualisations and user tagging of resources.

Harnessing the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ means that we can have millions of ‘archivists’ now creating metadata and archival finding aids – indeed whole new online archival collections, not just the overworked handful of archivists who have these duties in their job descriptions. For instance, the National Archives of Australia’s Mapping our Anzacs site mashes digitised copies of World War 1 service records and their archival metadata with geospatial metadata to provide a whole new means of access to and navigation of these popular records. In addition, a scrapbook facility allows users to upload their own family history information, hyperlinks and digitised records relating to the individual concerned – thus creating a much more valuable set of historical resources.

Copyright can be a major headache for archives wishing to make their collections more available an useable. Usually archives, while they might own their physical collections as objects, they will not own the copyright that resides in them. To make matters worse, according to the Copyright Act unpublished ‘manuscripts’ (ie archives) are in perpetual copyright. Yes that’s right – they are in copyright FOREVER unless the copyright owner (if they can be found) gives permission for them to be published. I think Australia is the only country anywhere that has such a strange provision in its statute books.

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