“I think the main principle I will take from this work is the significance of robust records/information management practices. Record keeping strategies and policies and the retention triggers that can be built in to an EDRMS can, in the long run, streamline preservation activities. Activities such as transfer and ingest to a preservation system, can be time consuming (depending on the workflows in place), so ways to streamline or automate actions will help in the long run.” 

Nicola Steele, Grosvenor Estates

Different record keeping systems facilitate different ways to manage records and these systems may be configured in different ways to fit organisational needs. Gather information about how the records have been managed, described and stored and what processes and procedures are in place. Finding the right people to talk to and ask questions of is key to moving forward. The questions you ask can also be usefully supplemented by reading relevant information management and data governance policy and procedure documents in order to understand how users of the system are encouraged to work. 

“Even though EDRMSs usually have (by definition) disposal and appraisal functionality built into them, it is still very much a manual and resource-intensive process to determine archival value records, export them, and transfer them to the archive. Current and future work must look at automating value determinations through machine learning and AI techniques." 

James Doig, National Archives of Australia

One of the biggest preservation challenges you may face is establishing which records are of long-term value and should be preserved, but if the system and procedures for using it have been well managed, you may find this problem has already been solved. It is worth spending time understanding how this has been applied to establish whether any additional appraisal work is needed prior to preservation.

If documents are not managed in such a formal way, for example they are shared across platforms in Microsoft Office 365, analysis for preservation is harder and you will need to consider how you identify and safeguard the records of long-term or permanent value.

Some record keeping systems allow sensitivity classifications to be applied to documents. Find out who has applied them and whether they have been used accurately and consistently. Consider whether your preservation approach is suitable for all classifications of sensitivity or whether certain classes of record will need to remain within the system.

“It is not always clear what the ‘record’ is in an EDRMS. Agencies create systems to meet their often unique business requirements and while it may be understood that their contents contain permanent records that will eventually be transferred out, they may also contain information that is not appropriate for transfer. It is a laborious process to pick through a complex system to determine which bits are really of interest.“ 

Kevin De Vorsey, National Archives and Records Administration

This section includes further questions to help identify the records management processes in place and what impact they will have on the records and metadata that reside in the system.

Questions to ask include:

  1. Is the record keeping system designed to support a specific business process? Is that process thoroughly documented? Does the business process define what information must be captured or the order in which information must appear?

  2. Are users encouraged to place their records at an appropriate point in the records structure or hierarchy so that the context of the records is clear? How does the system enforce any policies that are in place (if at all)?

  3. Are users able to add relevant metadata to their records to support the future preservation of the record, demonstrate trustworthiness and authenticity, provide context and enable future use? How is this encouraged or enforced (for example with mandatory fields or drop down lists of acceptable values)?

  4. Does the system manage records with different types of access or usage restrictions or is it dedicated to a single type of restriction that is not reflected in the metadata? (ie. a system used to manage publications that are all covered by the same copyright).

  5. Is the system used to store records with different dispositions or retention periods or are all records subject to a common disposal date?

  6. Is all information stored in the system considered a ‘record’ or are users encouraged to declare which information is considered to be a ‘record’?

  7. Is guidance provided on how and where personally identifiable information is stored?

  8. How are users encouraged to handle versioning of records and how does the system support this?

  9. How is appraisal, selection and disposal of records handled (in accordance with retention and disposal schedules and applicable legislation)?

  10. Are users encouraged to flag records (or groupings of records) that need to be preserved for the long term? Has this been done in a reliable and consistent way?

  11. Does the system keep a log of events that occur to a record, for example who last edited it and on what date? Can this information be captured as part of the export process?

  12. Does the system include the ability to make records read-only once they have been finalised? This ensures that records cannot be edited and gives assurance to the archive and future users that the record is authentic.

  13. Does the EDRMS include the ability to stop users moving content when it has been closed? The last place a record sits when it was current gives important context.

  14. To what extent are the policies described above adhered to by users - is adherence monitored in any way or does the system itself enforce them?

  15. Does documentation exist that will help future custodians and users of the records understand how the record keeping system functioned and how records were created, captured, arranged and described?


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