The Parliamentary Archives captures and preserves records of national and international significance. The types of records produced internally are unique, providing immeasurably 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. 

As a result 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 development, testing, and delivery of technical and human processes to transfer records from an EDRMS presented a defining challenge for the Parliamentary Archives. With communication and advocacy led by the Parliamentary Archives, teams spanning across UK Parliament were responsible for the delivery of core components of this work. The Preservation and Access Team, Information and Records Management Service, and various teams within the Parliamentary Digital Service all cooperated to deliver key products including:  

  • A package of rules and procedures to allow the identification of EDRMS data for permanent preservation. This was achieved by reporting on inbuilt business retention rules using SQL, viewing the data in these reports in conjunction with organisational knowledge and relevant policies.
  • Tools and guidance for record creators to allow for authorisation and export of this data. As well as using SQL reports to identify this information, we requested enhancements to native EDRMS functionality to allow for closure periods to be applied prior to transfer.
  • Workflows to enable transfer of the data into the digital repository. A custom developed ingest workflow was delivered which identifies source records and metadata in a structured form, maintaining a chain of custody between systems.
  • Connectivity between the catalogue and the repository to enable the maximum possible automation of cataloguing. By identifying and mapping EDRMS metadata with our existing catalogue we have demonstrated the feasibility of synchronising catalogue metadata and collection structure.
  • Training and guidance packages to allow staff from across the Parliamentary Archives to participate in this work. These are accessible, assume no prior knowledge of digital preservation and are continuously peer reviewed.

These products ensure that UK Parliament can deploy the end-to-end capability to export, transfer, and provide access to core corporate digital records. Processes have been established well in advance of the decommissioning of the EDRMS, and significant Parliamentary records are already in the digital repository. This is a significant achievement in a complex and high profile organisation.

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. 

Identification of records for transfer was an area where collaboration with the Information and Records Management Service was particularly significant – they have organisational knowledge and awareness which works alongside the system’s built-in business rules and policies. Some of the records we have identified demonstrate Parliament’s response to era-defining events – like those of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union – whilst records from ad-hoc Committees scrutinise issues as diverse as Artificial Intelligence, Political Polling and Sexual Violence in Conflict. These records are unique, as is the opportunity to capture them now from their source system, comparatively close to the point of creation. Through our work to establish transfer from the EDRMS to the digital repository both technically and as a business process, we've ensured that we can deliver on this opportunity.

We work to advance the capacity to preserve Parliament’s digital resources for the benefit of present and future generations. Any form of digital record has to be able to survive successive generations of finite system lifespans that hold them. The Parliamentary Archives has displayed keen situational awareness with digital records transfer from an EDRMS; work which represents a significant step along this path. 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.

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