| Access to archival records: A review of current issues: A RAMP study |
|1. Factors influencing the consultation and dissemination of archival information|
1.1 The 1980s witnessed radical transformations in the governing systems of many countries. With the emergence of new democracies, whole political systems were replaced, most often with hybrids which combined local visions of governance and models from other countries. Among many factors for change, these events reflect the long evolution of the concept of the citizen's right-to-know which, aided by technological advances that have broken down communication barriers, has redefined principles of governance.
1.2 In North American and Western European countries, the citizen's right-to-know had earlier been formalized in legislation proclaiming the individual's right of access to information created and held by government bodies. The United States' Freedom of Information Act, first passed in 1966, inspired many countries to adopt similar laws. Where access rights were not legislated, regulations were often liberalized to limit the span of possible exemptions to access and as well as the period set for full disclosure.
1.3 This approach was later complemented by the notion of accountability. Governments are now expected to accept responsibility for their actions and for their interventions in the lives of citizens, and to be able to demonstrate (by recourse to accurate records) that they have fulfilled their legislated and legal obligations. This principle has two major philosophical underpinnings: decision-making has to be marked by a clear trail of evidence and government actions have to be executed in an unbiased, efficient manner.
1.4 These two factors have had an impact on the way in which the decision-making process is documented and how this documentation is managed. Information management practices have been considerably revised to address this new environment. The concept of corporate memory, which relates to information needed by institutions at a given time to do their job, requires the implementation of proper information management practices. The goal is to ensure that only relevant information is created and kept, and that systems are developed to manage that information so that it is easily accessible. Sceptics have claimed that access legislation and regulations have had an opposite, "chilling effect," on record creation, and that in fact the record is less candid than it should be.