We can’t tell business units that they are the custodians of their records and then tell them that they’re not their records.

This is a strange dichotomy that I’ve run into continually over the last few years.

I’ll talk to a records team who will tell me that they’re not responsible for the quality of the records in the system because the business are the custodians of the records.

They’ll then talk to the same business unit who are not doing what the records team wants them to do, and tell them that the records aren’t theirs, they’re the organisations.

So which is it?

What are the predictable outcomes from that option?

2 thoughts on “We can’t tell business units that they are the custodians of their records and then tell them that they’re not their records.”

  1. Hi Karl,
    Are the records team not correct in saying that the business unit is indeed the custodian but not the owner? After all, a state archive will tell you that they are a custodian for permanent records (and hence have responsibilities to care for the records) but the ownership stays with the agency.
    While a records team would be better served by not taking the “not my job” route – I don’t know that it’s completely wrong to say “you don’t own the records, but you do have to look after them”.
    Or am I just very idealistic indeed?
    ps: LOVE your blog (long time reader, first time commenting)


    1. Thanks Chel, that’s very kind of you to say!

      I was hoping this post would generate more discussion.

      I think the issue is beyond one of correctness and into one of strategy and the outcomes it produces and whether concepts are fit for purpose anymore.

      I think you’ve got exactly the same thing I’m wrestling with – the “not my job” problem. I think the concept of “custodian” isn’t fit for purpose anymore. Outside of physical records, there is no custodian, all the records we keep are infinitely duplicatable without loss of their evidentiary value. I think the real problem that talking about custodians causes us is that it traps us in old thinking – which is the kind of thinking that says “there’s one copy of this, it’s held as evidence, and we’ll refer to it when we need it” rather than “this has informational content value, and someone has to own getting leverage out of that.” I think lots of organisations are solving this with data people – whose basic operating principle value driven and not ownership focused.

      RACI charts are good – they come from service management and divide responsibility for specific aspects into Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed. I think that would be a useful transition for us to make.


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