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Chief Archivist’s Annual Report: Digital By Design Key To Effective Information Management

Te Rua Mahara o Te Kāwanatanga Archives New Zealand is working to support government agencies to improve recordkeeping, by assessing technology and tools that information management professionals need to manage their records efficiently and meet legislative obligations.

The 2020/21 annual report, from the Chief Archivist Kaipupuri Matua Stephen Clarke, was presented to Parliament yesterday by the Minister of Internal Affairs. It says Archives NZ has a growing set of monitoring tools, but government record-keeping processes, policies, platforms and practice have not kept pace with technological advances.

“Most public sector organisations hold countless copies of all their applications, data and documents, digital and physical. This creates an unmanageable ‘digital landfill’, making it difficult to distinguish what has value,” says Mr Clarke.

“We need an information management system designed for the digital age.

“There is no excuse for poor recordkeeping when we have the right processes and tools available.

“This is where Archives NZ adds value to New Zealand, and the public service, through having a memory we can recall, to make better decisions to enhance our service delivery to our people. We preserve the past to inform the present, to achieve a better future.”

A key finding from the 2020/21 annual survey, and the first cohort of audits from the new audit programme, show that change continues to be slow. There has been little improvement, or even regression in categories such as information management staff and disposal, over the past decade.

“In the fast-paced data-driven age, standing still is going backwards,” says Mr Clarke.

Simplified processes, combined with a cultural shift and behavioural change around which documents are kept, is also important.

“We are increasingly realising the importance of keeping records from the perspective of the individual or community rather than the state, that tell stories about us as people, as sub-cultures and as iwi, particularly those whose stories were once unlikely to be preserved.

“In the past, Te Ao Māori concepts were not included as a matter of course. This has led to the current situation where public sector organisations are unable to find the data and information of interest and value to Māori. This also makes them inaccessible to Māori. Our system of government and recordkeeping systems were imported wholesale into Aotearoa from Europe, but we have an opportunity to change that.”

A lack of accessibility to official documents has been highlighted in the Royal Commission Abuse in Care Inquiry. It is an area where information professionals need to be more open-minded about what documents are kept, says Mr Clarke.

“The Abuse in Care Inquiry, and the survivors’ stories and personal accounts, has underlined the criticality of our purpose within a well-functioning democracy. We are here to care for the records that hold government to account, and to uphold transparency, and where necessary the means of seeking redress.”

Supporting the Royal Commission inquiry has highlighted the importance of the regulatory framework and mandatory requirements of all public offices.

“The Inquiry has shown the importance of creating and maintaining full and accurate records of decisions, policy and practice, as well as their appraisal and the need to understand the value of information in the records.”

Archives New Zealand is responsible for regulating public offices under the Public Records Act (PRA) 2005. It is currently working on an Appraisal, Disposal and Implementation (ADI) redesign project to see how it can work towards effective digital by design information management throughout the whole of government. An Information Maturity Assessment for government agencies already provides clear and specific self-assessment guidance on Archives’ expectations for IM maturity.

The PRA does not provide Archives NZ and the Chief Archivist with explicit investigative powers. However, our tools include the ability to audit government bodies, direct a public office to report to us, to inspect records and to set standards on how records must be managed.

Read the full Chief Archivist’s Annual Report 2020/21 on the Archives New Zealand website.

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