| Archives and records management for decision makers: a RAMP study |
Decision makers need records and archives when making decisions. The speed with which the decisions are made and the quality of the decisions made depends on the availability of information which enables all relevant factors and issues to be considered before a decision is made. The availability of information however is dependent on the way in which the records and archives have been organised. The organisation of the records and archives is achieved through the application of records and archives management techniques. The effective use of records and archives in decision making is therefore governed by the extent to which the records and archives have been organised. and managed and by the extent to which the decision makers are able to obtain access to and use records and archives in making decisions.
This document outlines the major principles of records management and archives administration, identifies the information needs of the decision makers, assesses the manner in which records and archives are being handled and the extent to which the needs of the decision makers are being satisfied. It draws attention to the crucial role that records and archives have in decision making, the advantages that accrue when records and archives are used in decision making and the adverse consequences that can result when decisions are made without adequate reference to records and archives.
The document should be useful to both the decision makers and the archivists. While indeed it will not dwell at length on the decision making processing it will however examine archival practice in depth in order to make the decision maker aware of the processes by which records become archives and to show the relevence of these archives to decision making. Archival practices will also be examined to find out the extent to which they are supplying a relevent service to the decision makers and it is hoped that any shortcomings that are revealed will if anything explain the present poor utilisation of archives in decision making and point the way to improvements that are necesary.
The decision making process will of course differ from institution to institution and from country to country as will archival practice. This document cannot then be expected to cover all situations and contingencies nor to have universal applicability. There is a very real realisation that there is a wide difference of practice between the Developed and Developing World. There is also recognition that the role of the archivist will be interpreted differently from country to country and from region to region. With these limitations in mind however the main conclusions of this study will have a validity for the archivists of both the Developed and Developing countries. The inadequate resources seem to afflict archivists from both areas. The conservation and reluctance to adopt new strategies and technologies seems to be a universal problem and the low extent of usage of archives in decision making seems equally shared. To this extent therefore it seems essential that archivists from both the Developed and Developing World should re examine and reappraise their practices and make certain fundamental readjustments and realignments.
This document is based primarily on information and data which was gathered through two questionnaire that were circulated in early 1989. The first questionnaire was sent to all category A members of the International Council on Archives. One hundred and fifty eight questionnaires were sent out and seventy four responses were received. As the response began trickling in however, it became clear that it would also be necessary to obtain the opinions of those who created the records and archives and who used them in making decisions.
A second questionnaire was thus sent to the National Archives of a few selected countries, namely, Australia, Botswana, Canada, Federal Republic of Germany, Kenya, Singapore, Yugoslavia and United Kingdom. These institutions were requested to distribute the questionnaire to Government Ministries and departments and to other institutions that might be of relevance and interest. The questionnaire was also sent to Government Ministries and departments in Zimbabwe. Responses were received from 12 ministries and departments in Australia, 24 in Botswana, 5 in Singapore, 4 in Yugoslavia and 10 in Zimbabwe. The response levels were obviously rather dissapointing making it difficult to draw statistically valid samples. They however have made it possible to draw some examples.
The sending of the questionnaires to the creators and users of the records and archives as well as to custodians and keepers has provided some interesting information and data. There is little doubt that both groups see records and archives as being very important. They are equally agreed that records and archives should be accorded the highest priority and recognition. This acceptance of the role and importance of archives is however clearly not matched by the provision of the requisite resources and the picture that emerges is of institutions battling with inadequate financial and material resources to gather, store' preserve and make available to users the records and archives which the users need in order to make decisions. Partly as a result of insufficient resources and partly because of the policies of the archival institutions records and archives are not playing the pivotal role in decision making that they are capable of playing.
The questionnaires that were sent out were deliberately unorthodox in their approach and in the line of questioning pursued, and this prompted an esteemed colleague to say that he could see no point in filling the questionnaire observing that "there is no chance of giving you an adequate impression of our situation - - - - - by filling in the form....... I would like to wish you success for your project. Unfortunately I have some doubts as well to the goal and to the method". Gratefully though. the colleague enclosed literature relating to his institution which enabled relevant information to be extracted.
The questionnaires however were meant to take the archivists from their traditional and habitual pursuits into perhaps new dimensions of thinking and areas of endeavour. The questionnaires aimed a' establishing the financial and material resources available to these institutions their positions and practices in relation to the management of current, semicurrent and non-current records, the extent to which they had assessed and quantified the needs of the decision makers and the extent to which they were ensuring that the decision makers had adequate access to the records and archives that they needed in decision making. The questionnaires also aimed at assessing the extent to which archival institutions. in spite of their obvious specialisation, saw themselves as no different from any other institutions in terms of their general management. It aimed at assessing the way in which archival institutions saw the need to run their institutions using modern management techniques for the procurement of goods, supplies and services, for managing materials in stock, for marketing their products and services, and for managing the human resources. The better management of archival institutions was seen as critical to the generation of the ability of the institutions to provide a relevant service to the records creators and users.
From the responses received, it seems that by and large archival institutions are operating in very much the same way that they have been operating for generations. And yet if it is a records management and archives administration service that they are offering to modern Governmental institutions, their survival and relevance lies in recognising the changes that have taken place in the record creating agencies, changes that have affected the demand and needs of the decision makers and that require consonant adjustments by those entrusted with custodianship of the records and archives. There is an obvious need for archival institutions to overhaul and harmonize their practices in order to achieve that status of relevance which the decision makers obviously expect and need.
The responses received came from all parts of the world, from Africa, Australasia, Asia, Europe, the Americas and Oceania and from both developed and developing countries. It was most gratifying that most of the questionnaires were filled or completed by the heads or deputies of the institutions to which they had been sent. Since the first questionnaire was sent primarily to national archival institutions and to institutions operating at state, provincial and local authority level, reference to archival institutions within this document will thus refer to institutions operating at these levels. Decision makers will also be confined to those working in Governmental and public institutions especially those operating at Government Ministry or departmental level.
In analysing the responses. there will be many instances in which the responses will not tally with the number of questionnaires received. This is primarily because not all institutions responded to all questions and some of the responses could not be used for purposes of analysis and statistical collation.