Victoria Brown, Scottish Council on Archives

Victoria Brown, Scottish Council on Archives

Last updated on 4 October 2018

The Archives and Records Management Services Quality Improvement Framework (ARMS).  It’s not exactly a catchy title, is it? Quality improvement frameworks don’t usually inspire curiosity, never mind excitement. If you have come across ARMS or other QI frameworks, you might be thinking this looks like a lot of work, I already know what our strengths and weaknesses are - what are the benefits? There are quite a few:

  • Raising your profile
  • Supporting you in achieving the archive accreditation standard
  • Implementation of the Public Records (Scotland) Act, 2011 and other legislation
  • Overcoming challenges, addressing your priorities
  • Working more efficiently
  • Evidencing your value – to funders and a range of stakeholders

If you’re working in an archive or records management context, pushed for time and sceptical about self-evaluation and improvement frameworks, please read on. I can’t promise you’ll end up being a convert but hopefully you’ll be clearer on the benefits (and maybe even a little excited).

What ARMS is and what it isn’t…

The ARMS framework outlines key outcomes and performance indicators for archives and records management services. It sets out seven quality indicators ranging from creating and managing trustworthy records through to ethos and values. Depending on the priorities of your service, you can work through your area of focus, one QI at a time. Your self-evaluation team evaluates evidence of your strengths and weaknesses. Areas in need of improvement are identified, actions agreed, and a plan generated.

In an ideal world, you repeat the above ad infinitum and continuous improvement becomes embedded in your way of working. Yes, going through the process does require some time. All the same, self-evaluation can help you identify where you might streamline processes and save time.

In some shape or form, we all need to report on what we’re doing. If you’re stifling a groan at the thought of another evidence gathering exercise, fear not. Although ARMS requires that you pull together some documentation for review, you should be able to re-purpose this work. The ARMS QIs are mapped to Scottish Government National Outcomes, How Good is Our Culture and Sport?, the Archive Accreditation Standard and the of the National Records of Scotland Model Records Management Plan. If for example, you want to demonstrate how your service contributes to the bigger picture or you’re working towards Archive Accreditation, ARMS can feed into this.

ARMS might look like a boring tick box exercise or a standard in disguise. It shouldn’t be, and it isn’t. Self-evaluation and improvement aren’t about being caught out or held to an unattainable ideal. If you and your colleagues work through a QI honestly, you can gain new insights into old problems and set realistic goals. Although ARMS can help you identify where you need to work on policies and procedures, it isn’t really about documents. It’s about people and how they work, together. Rather than being a straight up compliance tool, it should allow you to look more closely at implementation. It can help you to see if words are matching actions and if not, what you can do about it.

Getting to know you…

There are some less obvious benefits to using ARMS- the chance to develop your leadership skills and show off the great work you’re doing. In the wider world, the roles of archivists and records managers are not usually well understood. Colleagues within your own organisation might only have a vague notion of what you do, and it might be something along the lines of ‘extreme filing’. If you want to improve your service delivery and secure resources, it takes influence, team work and mutual understanding. ARMS can help open dialogue with colleagues about priorities and challenges. This can be hugely helpful - especially if you work in a shared services context or have responsibility for records management across a complex department or organisation.

ARMS is not just for archivists and records managers. All employees are record creators and users. If you can lure a varied cross section of people into your web of quality improvement, they will better understand where you’re coming from. They will put a face to a name and this can create opportunities and improve your visibility. Undoubtedly, others will also have new ideas and perspectives you’ve never considered.

Using ARMS does require gathering evidence of what you do, but the crucial bit is considering the all-important why. The self-evaluation process can be a stealthy yet transparent way of pushing an agenda for change in a spirit of co-operation. Is the shared drive a total jungle despite all that carefully worded guidance and training? This is your chance to find out why and to collectively work out what needs to change. Everyone is short on time but talking things through can be more efficient than sending yet another (unread) email about a carefully crafted policy.

A chance to show off (and lead) …

There’s lots of research out there about how human beings have evolved to focus on the negative. We’re hard wired with a negativity bias, it helped our ancestors survive. What was helpful to a hunter gatherer can be harmful within an organisation. If your service is under pressure, it can be difficult to keep sight of what you do well. When you’re overstretched, it can be hard to see how you can make efficiencies or effect positive change. ARMS won’t make your challenges magically disappear, but it can help put them in perspective.

When we piloted the framework with services and peer reviewed their self-evaluation findings, all of them underrated their strengths. They also tended to exaggerate their weaknesses. Its important to be rigorous when you evaluate what you do. It’s equally important to revel a little in your achievements.

You will likely want to seek senior management buy-in to undertake the self-evaluation process. If you have their attention, you can make the most of it. Let them know what you’re excelling at and show them how you’re leading on improvement. Even if your circumstances are challenging, working toward positive change can be an antidote to low morale.  

Help

If you think you want to give ARMS a try, we’re here to help. In partnership with Quality Scotland, we recently moved the framework to a new and more user-friendly platform. There is a video tutorial to show you around the online tool, as well as guidance and mapping exercises. You can learn more about the framework here 

If you have any questions please, get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on 0131 535 1361


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