| Emergency plan for dealing with accumulations of records and archives in government services: a RAMP study |
|3. Phases in the implementation of the emergency plan|
Given that most ministries did not have archive services and were not equipped to implement the emergency plan appropriately from a technical point of view, it was decided to set up a team of professionals, documentation specialists and university lecturers in library science to be responsible for monitoring and more effective planning of the work.
3.3.1 Technical assistance and monitoring the progress of the work
The members of this team were required by the Prime Minister, under contract and in accordance with terms of reference, to provide technical assistance to the working groups set up in the government services to implement the emergency plan. For each ministry, an adviser was appointed to manage the establishments under its supervision. In some cases, one adviser took care of two ministries. In others, owing to the scale of the administrative machinery in certain ministries, two advisers were appointed in each. The ministers were officially notified by the Prime Minister of the appointment and the assignment of the advisers.
Meanwhile, the central group that had carried out the preliminary study and proposed the emergency plan was made responsible for co-ordinating and monitoring it at the national level. The group's assignment was as follows:
- raise awareness among the senior officials in the ministries;
- monitor the advisers' action;
- centralize investigation of technical questions and procedures as required by the implementation of the plan;
- report to the authorities on the progress of the plan and the difficulties encountered so that the public authorities could take appropriate decisions.
The advisers spent on average two half-days per week with the working groups and travelled to government services located outside the capital. They explained to the employees concerned how to carry out the appraisal and classification operation, and, when necessary, hosted awareness-building or training sessions. They verified the lists established for the description of the documents to ensure that this important operation was technically sound.
The advisers' task was indirectly one of monitoring. It was through the reports that they drew up every two months on average, as well as the meetings which they held on that occasion with the central working group, that the Prime Minister's authorities were able to keep track of the plan's progress in the various government services.
Those meetings were propitious occasions for discussing specific or general questions raised by the execution of the emergency plan.
The advisers' periodic reports underscored the quantity of documents processed, their percentage in relation to their initial volume, the difficulties encountered and the operations concerned with the cleaning and ordering of the premises for the conservation of the documents. These reports also mentioned the working sessions held by the advisers with the groups carrying out the appraisal and classification as well as the visits they made to the interior of the country chat would serve to justify their special allowance.
Besides the regular meetings with the advisers, the central working group had occasion to intercede directly with the principal private secretaries or secretaries-general in some ministries to find a solution in cases where difficulties had been pointed out. At the same time, the group carried out verification and inspection assignments, especially in the interior of the country. These assignments were the subject of reports addressed to the authorities concerned.
At the same time, the central group organized fairly regular meetings with those in charge of the implementation of the emergency plan in the ministries so as to explain the procedures for executing the plan and the measures or decisions that had been taken for that purpose (inventory of premises and documents, special allowance for employees working within the framework of the plan, scheduling of the work, etc.).
The tasks of monitoring and follow-up proved to be both highly sensitive and essential. It is not always easy to harmonize some 20 ministries and hundreds of government establishments. The diversity of the situations to be managed calls for availability, dedication and know-how. Often chose in charge of the plan at the level of ministries do not find their supervisors sufficiency understanding and receptive for the plan to be executed smoothly. In ocher cases, the financial services are not over-zealous in meeting the plan's implementation needs or do not earmark enough funds for the purpose.
The monitoring and follow-up of the execution of the emergency plan must be based on a work schedule.
3.3.2 Scheduling the work
For a number of reasons, a target date should be set for the work to be executed in each ministry and government establishment. The words 'emergency plan' imply that the tasks in question are to be carried out within a definite time frame. Since the emergency plan is part of a national strategy for the organization of public archives, it must be kept to specific deadlines.
A single deadline must be set for all government services, even if they prefer variable target dates chosen according to their own assessments.
As regards the case selected for this study, the time frame set was 18 months (from July 1993 to the end of December 1994). In fact, on the strength of the inventories that had already been drawn up prior to the beginning of the appraisal and classification operation, we knew that the time allowed would not be sufficient for a number of ministries which consisted of several structures, such as the Ministries of Finance, National Economy and Agriculture. But it was better to adjust the deadline on the basis of the time necessary for implementing the plan by a majority of government services, even if a minority completed the plan after the specified time-limit.
The Prime Minister fixed the deadline in a circular letter sent to ministers so as to give it a binding character. It should be said that at the outset the emergency plan was not to have exceeded one year, but in view of its late start in many ministries, the deadline was extended by six months. The beginning actually coincided with the summer season, which is an annual holiday period for many civil servants and during which the official working hours are reduced to a single daily session.
Once the deadline has been set, each ministry and government service must schedule the work to be carried out within the time allowed. Admittedly, this is not a straightforward operation, since several factors are involved, namely, the quantity of documents, the number of premises to be refurbished and their geographical location (the staff must take turns to travel to the premises located away from the administration's headquarters), the number of people assigned to the emergency plan, the quality of their work and especially their productivity.
For all those reasons, it was not possible to ask for the schedule to be drawn up immediately after the start of the emergency plan. It was only a few months into the operation that the same circular letter from the Prime Minister was sent to government services requesting them to draw up a schedule. Standard forms were prepared for that purpose and had to be filled in and returned to the National Archives, about six weeks after the dispatch of the circular letter. The government services probably gained from the experience already acquired in carrying out the various operations, but they encountered a number of difficulties in drawing up a precise schedule, chief among which were:
- the lack of objective standards by which to gauge the productivity of the task of appraisal and classification;
- the impossibility of knowing precisely what proportion of the documents should be preserved and what proportion disposed of, when contemplating the documents assembled in bulk;
- the possibility of coming across other documents which had not been entered in the existing inventory.
Of course, the scheduling forms should none the less not be filled in carelessly or regarded as a mere formality. In any case, the schedule will serve as a management chart for the person in charge of the plan's implementation, even if it has to be adjusted more than once.
However, one serious matter was observed in that, in some cases, the scheduling forms were filled in on the basis of the deadline set for the plan's completion and not on the basis of the two important parameters already cited, namely, the number of persons assigned and the quantity of documents to be dealt with. Thanks to the advisers' two-monthly report, however, this was noticed and it was ascertained that the plan's execution did not match the schedule. As a result, in these cases, the emergency plan was in danger of not being completed on time. It is wiser and more realistic to set time-limits for the plan's completion on the basis of a ministry's real possibilities, specifically in the light of the two parameters mentioned above and taking into account the material resources available.