Chris Fryer is Senior Digital Archivist at the UK Parliamentary Archives

The Parliamentary Archives organises UK Parliament's memory. We are a shared service, providing an archives and records management service to the administrations of the House of Commons and House of Lords. We hold records of unique national importance, often defining watershed moments in the history of the United Kingdom (for example the UNESCO Memory of the World recognised Bill of Rights from 1689). Core procedural and administrative records safeguarded due to transfer of corporate digital records represent a continuation of this heritage.

The types of records produced internally are unique, providing valuable background and context for Parliament’s decisions and actions. With the end of the print-to-paper policy in Parliament in 2012 and the introduction of a corporate Electronic Document and Records Management System (EDRMS), the Parliamentary Archives has long recognised the need for a robust, end-to-end process for digital transfer directly from internal information systems. 

Because of the work we have done to establish a digital transfer process for Parliament’s EDRMS, we are now able to preserve these records – to the lasting benefit of anyone in the world with an interest in Parliamentary democracy. We’ve also set a precedent which will allow us to set up equivalent processes for future systems – something we’re already actively doing for Office 365. The opportunity to capture them now from their source system, comparatively close to the point of creation, demonstrates the effectiveness of becoming a digital archive by instinct and design.

To understand the significance of establishing this digital transfer process, it’s important to know that the EDRMS has been widely used across the organisation for all core digital Parliamentary records since 2012. For example, the EDRMS holds privileged correspondence and amendments relating to hundreds of public, private and hybrid bills. These records are a valuable primary source for understanding how the legislative framework in the UK has developed - they tell the story behind the laws which govern the rights and responsibilities of us all.

By establishing a set of tools and processes to transfer from the EDRMS, we are also ensuring we can capture the records of Committees from both Houses of Parliament. This means the survival of reports, correspondence and unpublished written evidence from all the Committees operating within Parliament between 2010 and 2018. Much of this material relates to the crucial scrutiny of Government Departments conducted by Select Committees.

Any form of digital record must be able to survive successive generations of finite system lifespans that hold them.  Just as importantly, our experience provides a strong foundation to build on through the next generation of technological change. Only by continually adapting and evolving can we continue to sustain Parliament’s digital legacy.

By safeguarding this vital digital heritage, the Parliamentary Archives helps Parliament work more efficiently and openly, enabling it to make its decisions and act as effectively as possible. They provide the basis to inspire everyone with the compelling story of Parliament, people, and communities.

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