The Value Proposition: Recordkeeping, Digital Archiving and Whole-of-Government Strategic Directions

Back in October 2014 I had the honour of representing Queensland State Archives at the annual conference of the Australian Society of Archivists, which was held in Christchurch, New Zealand as a joint conference with the Archives and Records Association of New Zealand. I spoke at the opening plenary session, which had the title ‘The Value Proposition’. It was a chance for me to inform our professional colleagues about QSA’s vision for digital archiving and more broadly about some of our recent strategic rethinking about the value proposition that QSA and recordkeeping can offer in support of the government’s strategic reform agenda. This rethinking has since been packaged under the title ‘Keeping Records Together’ – the subject of a number of other blog posts on this site over recent weeks.

Digital continuity by design
Digital continuity by design

I started by reflecting on our recent history, arguing that recordkeeping has suffered as ‘collateral damage’ from successive waves of public sector reform and technological change. While the business of government has been fundamentally transforming, recordkeeping processes and systems are still too-often stuck in a 1980s time warp. As such good recordkeeping, which used to be an organic and natural part of government business, is now very often disconnected from that business. It is often seen as an onerous and irrelevant nuisance, rather than as something that can help drive good government and good outcomes. Recordkeeping has become a victim of change rather than an enabler of reform.

I argued that an over-emphasis on legal compliance has contributed to this parlous situation. As a result recordkeeping is seen as a cost imposition in a world that is suffering compliance fatigue. Little wonder we often fail to gain traction with our messages and seem to be forever playing catch-up in a game controlled by someone else. In response to this QSA has made the conscious decision to change our regulatory posture. We no longer wish to be regarded as scary enforcers of compliance and instead want to be viewed as a ‘partner of choice’ for agencies who need our help in solving their information and records management problems and managing their business risks. This is best summed up in our new customer charter for public authorities, where we are committed to being helpful, relevant, collaborative and accessible. It is also beautifully illustrated in our new ‘Queensland Public Records – How We Do it’ (affectionately nicknamed the doughnut!) diagram.

My message to Queensland public authorities is that it is vital for QSA and for public sector recordkeeping to be recognised as key enablers of public sector renewal. If Queensland is to have the best public service in the country it needs to have modern, seamless, digital systems and processes for capturing, managing and enabling the use of its key information assets and the essential evidence of public administration. Good records and information management can be the engine room that will turbo-charge public sector renewal and modernisation. If public sector renewal is the Queen Mary, recordkeeping needs to be on the Bridge, not in a rowboat that gets swamped by the backwash.

All of this aligns directly with the Good Governance plank of the Queensland Plan and supports and validates the references to digital archiving that have been made in the Queensland Government’s ICT Strategy and in its Digital Economy Strategy, GoDigitalQueensland. The planets are truly coming into alignment, with 2015 promising to be a great year of strategic advancement for the greater cause of good government recordkeeping.

At QSA we are reassessing our approach to appraisal – authorising the making, keeping and destroying of public records – to make it as simple as possible and to minimise unnecessary public spending on keeping records for overly-long retention periods. We are exploring how to turn ‘Born Digital, Stay Digital’ and ‘PaperLite’ from nice aphorisms into operational reality, starting with ourselves. We are ramping up our focus on recordkeeping in business systems – which is where most records now live and die. We are clarifying our messaging about what public records really need to be captured and kept, recognising that a lot of public records are only of ephemeral value and should be disposed of at the earliest possible opportunity with a minimum of fuss and process.

And finally, we have embarked on implementing our long-planned vision for whole-of-government digital archiving, starting with a ‘Design and Prove’ project that will involve significant market engagement to source fit-for-purpose solutions for ‘digital archiving as-a-service’. See our Future State Vision diagram for a view of the digital archiving nirvana that we are all very committed to and excited about delivering.

Adrian Cunningham

Director, Digital Archives

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