When does records practice stop being proven, and how do we know?

Recently I’ve been discussing records practice with people and looking for the evidence that it is succeeding.

The thing that keeps happening, is that we reach a point on a discussion of a practice where whoever I’m discussing it with will say “it’s well proven” – or something to that effect.

What is interesting about this, is that the anecdotal feedback I get from the organisations I talk to is that records practice is currently gaining systematic control of between 10% and 30% of records.

To me, this doesn’t say that practice in its current form is succeeding.

Logically, this means that the proven practices that we have need to change.

I think that the records regulatory authorities know this.

In the last couple of years we’ve seen frameworks go from completely prescriptive with metadata standards that were very difficult to implement, to frameworks based on a handful of principles, and 3 – 5 pieces of metadata.

I also had an opportunity recently to pose a question about whether the model of sentencing and disposition we have is fit for purpose to a RIMPA panel of two directors of state records, and an assistant director from National Archives. One of the directors said that he didn’t think it was fit for purpose – but also that he didn’t currently have an alternative.

What this all points to for me, is that we have to re-examine what “proven” means.

The core of our profession is high quality evidence of business practice.

The practices that we have are supposed to produce this.

If they aren’t, they need to change.

The question is, how do we know what needs changing?

I think complexity theory has the answers for us here. When dealing with complex problems, complexity theory tells us that we should run multiple “safe to fail” experiments and when we find evidence that one is more effective – we do more of that.

Ultimately, the question that we need to answer for everyone is “how much of our practice is proven, and how much is effective?” The only way we’re going to know is by finding evidence that what we do is more effective than the alternatives, and the only way we can do that is to try the alternatives.

If you’re already doing this – I’d love to hear from you and I’d love to take an opportunity to share your story (good or bad) – so please leave a comment or find me on LinkedIn.

2 thoughts on “When does records practice stop being proven, and how do we know?”

  1. Hello Karl – as always, I really love reading reading your posts and the questions they raise.
    And… I know that this is not the central theme of your post, but I have to say it, because it is indeed ‘the core of our profession’.
    I think that archives authorities need to evolve beyond the message of ‘preserving records of historical significance’ and adopt an approach that helps the agencies creating and managing those records. The modern discipline of public sector Records Management (as opposed to pure Archivistics) is about ensuring governments (i.e. government agencies) are accountable for their actions through the ability to scrutinise the evidence of those actions – and to be able to trust in that evidence.
    To remain relevant in a time of information explosion and growing public distrust of government and the evidence that they present to the world around their actions, Authorities should look more to how they can support records managers to do this at the front end, with guidance and requirements for ensuring the evidentiary integrity of organisations. This is how an information manager can prove their worth.


    1. HI Michelle, that is really very kind of you to say, and thank you for saying it – it’s nice to know I’m not just shouting out into the ether!

      I do agree with you in a general sense – and directors of state records in at least two states generally agree with you. I also think though that we have to be careful letting ourselves off the hook. I think that we need to examine the way we create and communicate value through records and information management, and we need to be more rigorous in how we quantify it. I have a side project on this that I’m kicking off and if you reach out to me on LinkedIn, I’ll tell you all about it!


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