| Emergency plan for dealing with accumulations of records and archives in government services: a RAMP study |
|4. Emergency plan and national policy on records and archives management|
It is not our intention to give a full description either of the national policy that ought to be implemented on records and archives management, or of the machinery of the national system to be set up. Much has already been written on this subject. We have merely been concerned to review the policy followed for making use of such a system in the case that is the subject of the present study. Admittedly, some data may be specific to this case, but the experiment that was carried out may be instructive from the point of view of the procedure followed to win over decision-makers and set up the machinery to bring such a system into operation.
4.2.1 Justification of the system
A national system of records and archives management must, let us remember, concern itself with documents from their first printing to their final destination, i.e. either destruction or permanent conservation.
This involves planning the production of documents, organizing their use during their life-cycle and conserving what deserves to be kept for posterity so that they can be used for scientific research and to enhance the country's heritage. Documents therefore have twofold value:
- primary value: this resides in the reasons for the document's production and remains valid during the period when the document is in frequent use, but becomes occasional when it passes to the stage of intermediate archives;
- secondary or usage value by virtue of purposes other than those for which the document was created and which may have to do with either information or heritage.
The records and archives management system is justified the important role of documents in underpinning the work of government services in managing the country's affairs and its integral development. Administrative documents, easily retrievable, constitute an appreciable source of information for the planning of the country's development and for the authorities' decision-making machinery. If they are well organized, the documents used during the day-to-day management of the country's affairs facilitate the government services' action, improve their efficiency and enhance their prestige in the eyes of the general public.
The aim is to empower the civil service to provide citizens promptly with the high-quality services to which they are entitled. Moreover, administrative documents are also a source of information for follow-up, monitoring and evaluation of government services' work. Hence it becomes possible not only to rectify or correct, if necessary, the policy that a country follows, but also to make public authorities accountable for their actions and to enforce 'the rule of law and institutions'.
The heritage value of archives is no less important. Archives constitute a basis for national sovereignty and identity, bearing witness to the actions and achievements of the authorities and keeping a record of scientific, artistic and literary activity in every country. The cultural identity of developing countries is increasingly threatened by the creeping uniformity? worldwide, of cultural productions and their dissemination by satellite broadcasting, digitalization and computer networks. Of course, this standardization brings benefits, but developing countries whose contribution to it is infinitesimally small would be well advised to receive it with full confidence in their own mature cultural, linguistic and moral identity rather than to reject it or submit to it in an involuntary and unregulated manner.
In the quest for national and cultural identity, young people and the not so young find a treasure-trove in their countries' archives. The heritage dimension of archives must be cultivated so as to reconcile a country's citizens with both their recent and their distant past. Every society needs to establish and assert itself and display its identity, and only thus can its receptive interaction with other civilizations be beneficial and rewarding.
To justify the need for a national system of records and archives management, decision-makers must be confronted with a range of arguments. However, it should be observed that, as a rule, decision-makers are often more receptive to arguments stressing the effectiveness and immediate advantages of the organization of current documents than to arguments in favour of the heritage value of archives. Hence it is possible to obtain the necessary decisions for such an undertaking in the knowledge that, through the organization of the life-cycle of current and semi-current documents, the organization and conservation of definitive archives can easily be achieved thereafter.
It is therefore worth while to point out the gains to which the organization of civil service documents gives rise, whether in terms of time, thanks to swift and reliable access to information, or in terms of space, equipment and staff. On one occasion a decision-maker was won over after learning that his services were renting warehouses to store documents that had been obsolete for many years. Other decision-makers were also convinced after an operation to organize the documents and files in their own offices.
Awareness campaigns must sway not only decision-makers but also the general public and the country's political authorities. In this respect, the media can play a leading role. For example, a televised report on the situation of archives, which was broadcast on a highly-rated television programme in the country of our study, had a very favourable impact. The success of the awareness campaign is sure to facilitate the establishment of the system in question.
4.2.2 Devising and setting up the system
Once a records and archives management system has been devised, its setting up requires an appropriate environment in the form of legislation, structures, qualified staff and material resources. In our present case-study, the legislative framework is fairly complete and includes a law and three implementation decrees. The problem that arose was more a failure of implementation in practice.
The emergency plan presented an opportunity to supplement this legislation by another decree setting out the responsibility for keeping administrative documents in the various types of government service (ministries, State establishments and enterprises, local authorities, etc.). Thus, where the legislative framework does not exist, it should be created, since it is necessary for the establishment of a records and archives management system. Under such a system, responsibilities are determined, missions defined and prerogatives and working procedures laid down. The legislation must outline the policy to be embarked upon on as regards the management of documents throughout their life-cycle and also the nature and the organization of the administrative structures that will be responsible for them.
These structures should be composed of a central body, with a leadership mission, and appropriate units for each government service. It is for the central body to lay down the national policy on records and archives management and to monitor its implementation. The documents management units in the government services will be required to implement the national policy adopted in this field as it applies to all government services and will have to plan and execute programmes for documents specific to various services.
In the case in hand, the central structure is provided by the National Archives acting as a government institution enjoying legal status and financial autonomy. Since it reports directly to the Prime Minister, it has the necessary authority to carry out its mission at national level. As regards units qualified in the management of documents in government services, these are not in place everywhere. One of the measures that the programme for the implementation of the records management system will include is that of completing the establishment of this type of unit in all government services. In addition, the advisory body, the 'Conseil supÃ©rieur des archives', which has existed since 1988, was restructured by a decree in order to lay down national policy in this field more effectively.'
Given the lack of qualified professionals in records management and in order to help government services to equip themselves with operational units, a training course was introduced. Its purpose is to train, over one year, applicants holding a Master's degree (diploma obtained after four years of university education) in records and archives management. The training of teams of professionals is therefore very valuable when it comes to establishing a records and archives management system.
At the time of writing, the emergency plan described in this study had also just come to an end. But a second plan is already in preparation. Its purpose is to organize public records by instituting classification systems and drawing up conservation schedules. The procedure to be adopted will be as follows:
(a) a working group will supervise the operation at the national level, as was done during the implementation of the emergency plan;
(b) multidisciplinary working groups will be required to devise:
- classification systems for records which are common to government services, especially those concerned with general administration and the management of staff, finances and the property of those services;
- conservation schedules for those common records;
(c) a working group, or a commission, for each government service, will have to devise:
- a classification system for records specific to that government service;
- a conservation schedule for records specific to that government service.
This technique will tend to ensure uniformity in classification techniques and procedures as well as in rules to be observed concerning the time-limits on the conservation of common public records. It will also make government services more accountable by being put in charge of the programme for their specific documents. The implementation of this whole programme will take into account the country's specific circumstances, administrative practices and traditions, and its legislation, including legal stipulations regarding the conservation of documents, etc. But it must learn from other countries' experience. Already, tools such as appraisal charts and conservation schedules are starting to be collected. In addition, the process of organizing documents has begun in a number of State enterprises and the National Archives have already approved two conservation schedules.
The Implementation of this plan will probably be extended over a period ranging from three to five years. It will therefore mobilize all government services and require their participation at all levels.
So it is important that all the necessary conditions be met for the success of this important operation. Ideally, the country's highest executive authority should monitor such an undertaking.