IPSP learning network workshop on records management

Date: 28 Nov 2002

Venue: CSIR Conference Centre, Pretoria


1. Introduction

The workshop was attended by approximately 35 representatives of provincialgovernments and archives, together with senior staff of the National Archives.The proceedings of the day-long meeting consisted largely of discussions ofprovincial records management problems and possible solutions.The International Records Management Trust (IRMT) was invited toparticipate and asked to provide a brief outline of the work it had doneelsewhere, particularly in relation to improving the management of personnelrecords, and to recommend approaches at the practical level. A short videoon issues relating to the management of personnel information in Tanzaniawas also provided.Prior to the workshop, a proposed approach to improving recordsmanagement at the provincial level had been suggestedby the NationalArchives. The approach, which was a main focus ofdiscussion for workshopparticipants, involves the establishment of recordsmanagement Forums ineach province. The Forums will enable records andinformation managementproblems to be identified and interventionco-ordinated. The Forums will alsoallow for standard policies and procedures to beintroduced acrossdepartments and enable the sharing of knowledge andskills in tacklingrecords management problems. More details of theproposed approach areprovided in the next section.

2. Strategy for Records Management in the Provinces: Presentation by the National Archivist

A presentation was made at the workshop by the National Archivist proposing a strategy that would provide the basis for a project to improve records management in the provinces.The National Archivist described the records management challenge facing the provinces. Though the National Archives has a well-trained staff and there are skilled individuals in some provinces, there is a severe lack of capacity and resources to manage the nation’s records and archives. The National Archives Act and Constitution divides responsibility for the records of public bodies between the National Archives and provinces. The Records Management Division within the National Archives has approximately 10 professional staff, serving not only central government (with 4000 client offices), but those provinces that still lack an archives infrastructure. The relationship between the national and provincial archives is that the National Archives sets the broad framework and the provinces draw up their own policies. Each province is therefore responsible for its own records and archives and also for the records and archives of local authorities within theprovince. Only three provinces ‘inherited’ functioning archives and the National Archives continues to administer certain provincial archives. However, the aim is that by 2003 all remaining provincial offices will be fully‘provincialised’. Each province has a different capacity to manage its records. Furthermore, when the provinces were established in 1994, they inherited administrative practices from different structures; some departments wereamalgamated and new departments were set up. Typically, a province has 10 or so departments. A further challenge is to enable public bodies to comply with the requirements of the Promotion of Access to Information Act whichwas passed in 2000 and is being implemented in stages. The Act requires an ‘information officer’ to be appointed for each public body. This officer must compile in at least three official languages a manual containing, among otherdetails, a description of the structure and functions of the body, contact details, and sufficient information to facilitate a request for a record of the body and a description of the services available. This legislation has enormousimplications for record keeping and management in the provinces.The solution proposed by the National Archives, inconsultation with DPSA,aims to implement the National Archives Act within thespirit of theConstitution. It envisages appointing ‘departmentalrecords managers’ in theprovinces, as provided for in the legislation. Asnoted, the Access toInformation legislation requires that there must be aninformation officer;overall responsibility for records management couldalso be assigned to theinformation officer so that the two relatedresponsibilities are linked in thesame office. There is also a need to linkresponsibility for recordsmanagement to the Premier’s Office in each province sothat a cross-provinceservice could be provided. Provincial archivists arenot generally well placedto undertake a cross-province role.The National Archives’ solution also envisages thecreation of a recordsmanagement Forum in each province, thereby bringingtogether recordsmanagers from the line departments. This wouldfacilitate a collectiveapproach, would promote knowledge sharing and commonstandards andwould enable a body of expertise to be built up.A priority area to be tackled in the provinces ishuman resource records.Unless these records are brought under control, DPSAis limited in its abilityto solve other management problems. The strategyproposed by the NationalArchives would include pilot projects in humanresource records.Section 4 below provides more details of the proposedForums and otherstrategies and solutions as the outcome of discussionsduring the workshop.At the end of the report (Section 7) is a suggestedoutline programme forcapacity building in provincial records management.Partners in governmentand the donor community should be sought to supportthe implementation ofthis strategy as partof a Provincial RecordsManagement Capacity Buildingproject.

3. Records Management in the Provinces: Problem Areas

Though the following issues were raised by representativesof individualprovinces, comments by workshop participants indicatedthat these issues arecommon to many provinces.Northern Cape and North WestThe main area of concern was the lack of co-operationand compliance withrecords management systems by senior managers, some ofwhomdeliberately ignored procedures and regulations. Indiscussion, reasons forthis lack of compliance were suggested: these includedmistrust of recordkeeping systems, covering up of corruption, and aresult of senior managersregarding records as part of their personal recordkeeping systems. It wasalso noted that standards set by the National Archivesare more likely to betaken seriously, than advice provided by ProvincialArchives.MpumalangaConcerns were expressed about the designation or rankof records managersand their insufficient status. The level ofrepresentation in the recordsmanagement Forum was also an area of concern. Indiscussion,inconsistencies between provinces in the level ofappointment of recordsmanagers was also mentioned.Eastern CapeInconsistencies in the placement of the provincialarchivist and the archivesand records management functions within theadministrative structure werementioned. There was also a lack of performanceindicators to assess theeffectiveness of records management systems. It wasfelt that stricterpenalties for non-compliance with legislativerequirements would improverecord keeping practices. The comparison was made withfinancialregulations. Public servants were more respectful offinancial regulationsbecause of the serious consequences of non-compliance.KwaZulu-NatalThe lack of a professional ‘profile’ for archivistsand records managers wasraised as a concern.LimpopoLack of capacity was a major problem. Capacitybuilding and skillsdevelopment were needed. There was also a duplicationof effort caused bya lack of co-ordination between provincial archivesand other parts ofprovincial administration. For example, activitiesaimed at improving recordsand information management were felt to be duplicatedby the Office of thePremier and the Provincial Archives. In discussion,the comment was madethat line departments could try to bypass theProvincial Archives and makedirect contact with the National Archives. However,the Forums wereintended to provide a channel of communication.Free StateThe high turnover of registry staff was mentioned.There was also a lack ofequipment, such as file covers and filing cabinets.Other Issues of Common ConcernAdvocacy of records management by the NationalArchives was essential topersuade Provincial Directors General of theimportance of sound recordsmanagement as a foundation for good governance andefficiency. Someparticipants perceived a lack of national standards andguidelines that couldbe followed by provinces, though the National Archiveswas working in thisarea. The high turnover of records staff and theshortage of recordsmanagement equipment and supplies in client officeswere commonproblems.The low status and importance given by client officesto the registry andgenerally to the records management function was acommon perception.Similarly, there was a lack of recognition ofprovincial archives by clientoffices.

4. Other Issues Raised

Personal FilesWhile much effort and resources have already beeninvested in improving thequality and completeness of personnel records in theprovinces, there was stilla need to tackle the problem of access to the largequantities of personal filesin paper format. Furthermore, though files shouldcontain reliable, accurateand legally verifiable evidence of individualemployment history, many fileswere known to be incomplete.A consultant from Deloitte and Touche reported on afile tracking systembeing used to control the location and retrieval oflarge numbers of theEastern Cape Department of Social Security files. Theintention was that thefiles would be located physically in district offices,but that information aboutthe location of individual files would be availableelectronically in all offices.One benefit of the system is that files do not need tobe returned to theoriginal location after use as the system can beupdated with a new locationwhen the file is put away. Another advantage is thatboxes can be filled to themaximum with this system of random storage.However, this system would not be suitable for allfiling systems, for examplethose in which the original physical order of thefiles needs to be preserved sothat they can be retrieved in sequences or blocks. Inthis case, there wouldneed to be the discipline or a reliable mechanism ofreplacing files in the exactlocation from which they were removed. The issue ofpower failure was alsoraised as a possible drawback of the file trackingsystem if speed of access tofiles was an important factor. If the electricitysupply was unreliable, filescould only be accessed quickly and effectively if thesystem was continuouslybacked up by a printed paper print, or there were backup power systems.Either option would add to the cost.The very large quantities of personal files that arereported to exist inprovinces, frequently in conditions of disorder,suggest that the file trackingsystem would not be suitable for immediateimplementation, though it may besuitable when order has been established. A first stepwould be to removeand dispose of personal files of no further value thatwere not required forevidence of employment history and entitlements; anadditional step would beto bring together files relating to the sameindividual so that a more completeemployment history would be available in one place.These exercises couldbe undertaken as pilot projects.Records Management InspectionsThe National Archives needed more staff to fulfill itsinspection role. Oneoption, however, was to work with the Auditor Generalso that auditors couldreport record keeping problems found during audits tothe National Archives.

5. Possible Solutions and Actions

Participants discussed possible solutions to the problemsthey had identifiedand also discussed and agreed on the way forward.The Role of the Provincial RecordsManagement ForumsKey to the strategy to improve records management inthe provinces was theestablishment of Records Management Forums. It wasenvisaged that theForum would bring together in each province recordsmanagers from linedepartments. (In discussion, it was noted that thoughthere is a statutoryrequirement for each department to have a recordsmanager, somedepartments, possibly many departments, had yet tomake an appointment.)Provincial archivists should have a key role in theForum; the Forum wouldalso provide the archivists with an opportunity tointeract with recordsmanagers in a formal, structured setting. DirectorGenerals should decidewho will be the chairperson of the Forum.Terms of reference for the Forums already exist andsome Forums havealready been set up. However, it was agreed byworkshop participants thatthe terms of reference may need to be revised and therole of the Forumsmore precisely defined in the light of discussionsduring the workshop. TheNational Archives should take responsibility forpreparing new terms ofreference. There was some discussion about whether theForums should belocated within or outside governments. The generalview was that they had tobe part of the government structure, though linkscould be established withexternal bodies, such as SASA, IRMT and the AuditorGeneral.A primary function of the Forum will be to create theenvironment for goodrecords management in the provinces. To provide itwith the necessaryauthority, it was envisaged that the Forum wouldreport to the Governancecluster of provincial government, perhaps being asub-committee to that body.Once the Forums were functional, the National Archiveswould intervene inthe provinces only through the Forums.Another important function of the Forum would be tomonitor and evaluaterecord keeping practices, perhaps by means of standardcheck lists orassessment tools. The inspection role was important inidentifying recordkeeping problems: for example, whether the filingsystem is beingimplemented both at head office and at the districtlevel. The suggestion wasthat copies of inspection reports should be sent tothe Director General andMEC of the relevant department so that remedial actioncould be taken.Capacity would need to be built in some provinces sothat this inspectingfunction could be carried out. In the meantime,assistance would be needed.The National Archives has the capacity to trainprovinces to inspect.In discussion, representatives of North West andEastern Cape Provincesexpressed concern that their provinces lacked thecapacity to implement Forums.

Other strategies and solutions An audit of current records management/archives skills, structures and levelsof responsibility in the provinces was suggested. From this, roles, responsibilities and goals could be agreed.A vital requirement was to upgrade the skills of provincial archivists and keyrecords managers, particular those located in Premiers’ Offices. Lack ofcapacity to manage electronic records was an area of particular concern.Department records managers also need some training in broad principles. Itwas agreed that a training plan should be prepared. The issue of capacitybuilding is dealt with in more detail in Section 6 of this report. Funding forfurther training would need to be identified and secured.

6. Next steps

It was agreed that the outcomes of the workshop of 28 November would be circulated by 8 December. The workshop discussedmechanisms to convince provinces of the need to establish Forums and take action to improve records management. The recommendation was that a documentreporting the outcomes should be sent to Provincial Directors General, and copied toProvincial Archivists. A document would also be presented by the National Archivist to the next Directors General Forum, to be held in February 2003,and to the National Governance Cluster, also meeting in February. Forums should be set up in all provinces as a matter of urgency. The aim isthat Forums should be able to meet by early March 2003. This could be followed by a meeting of the provincial archivistscoordinating committee towards the end of March. Provinces will need to nominate suitable persons to serve on the Forum. Names and contact details of provincial archivists,deputy archivists and records managers in line departments will need to be obtained by February 2003. Comments were invited on the draft job description for records managers of government bodies, presented to the workshop by the National Archives. One of the Forums’ first requirements will be to identify records management training needs. Once these needs are known, a trainingprogramme can be costed and donors approached for funding. Performance indicators to assess record keeping systems and practices were also needed. A national forum of provincial archivists could be alater development. Similarly, a sub-forum for local authorities could also be established.

7. Capacity Building: Some Suggestions for a Training Programme for Provincial Records Management - IRMT

The objective is that Forums will identify training and capacity building needs by February 2003. All Provincial Archivists, Secretaries/Chairs of Forums and departmental records managers need to be trained as a part of the proposed programme.Training for records staff should also be planned and designed, though the training itself is not regarded as part of this suggested programme. However,awareness raising for the users of records should be considered for inclusion. In summary, the programme should include the followingcomponents:

Target GroupPurposeDurationLocation
Forum membersTo train members to function as an effective bodyFour daysProvince
Provincial archivists and key records managers (e.g. in Premiers’ Offices)To build capacity in all aspects of the theory and practice of records and information managementSix months, part timeCentral/distance learning
Provincial records managersTo build capacity in records management practicesOne month part-time (rolling programme over one to two years to cover all provinces)Province
Heads of DepartmentTo raise awareness of their role in supporting and maintaining good records management practicesOne dayProvince
National Archives staff (2 persons)To expose staff to current international practices and latest thinkingThree to four weeksUnited Kingdom

Training relating to the Forums

An initial short course is needed, aimed atestablishing the Forums aseffective bodies, capable of intervening in provincialadministrations toimprove records management practices. The course couldinclude, forexample, techniques for assessing the strengths andweaknesses of recordsand information management systems, problem solving incommon areas ofconcern, building strategies for improving recordkeeping standards andservices, and integrating records and informationmanagement with thestrategic planning process within the province.There will be a continuing need to provide guidanceand mentoring to theForums. This could include, for example, assistingwith the analysis of recordkeeping problems, with the design of methodologies andremedial action toprovide solutions, to monitor follow-up action bydepartments and to supportthe design, implementation and evaluation of pilotprojects.

Training for provincial archivists and key records managers

More advanced and intensive training is needed by provincial archivists and by the key records managers (those located in Premiers’ Offices). This would aim to build their knowledge and capacity in all keyareas of records and information management, as well as familiarize them with current international thinking and practice. The training programme could be customized to meet the needs of the provincial archives and premiers’offices. For example, it could be delivered in phases, with the first part of the training dealing with principles and standards of good practice, and later courses covering particular areas such as electronic records management. Training could be conducted centrally, for example, at a training venuein Pretoria. Training of records managers needs to include the broad principles and practices of records and information management, and possibly capacity building in those areas that are of major concern, such as decongestion(removal of inactive records from current systems and their subsequent management), the retention and disposal of non-current records based on disposal authorities approved by the National Archives, and the integration of paper and electronic record keeping systems.Training of records managers would need to beconducted in their own provinces. Between ten and 20 records managers, i.e.,those who participate in the Forum, would be trained together. The idealwould be to use a small number of trainers (records management practitionerswith wide international experience and a proven track record in training) whowould conduct training in each province in turn. This would ensureconsistency of approach and standards. Training could take place over a period ofbetween one and two years depending on the number of trainers involved. Asa first step, the trainers would be required to evaluate the NationalArchives’ existing training courses and adapt them as necessary.

Awareness Raising for Heads of Departments

The training programme should include presentations to heads of departments and possibly records users and their role in supporting and maintaining effective record keeping systems. These sessions would help to explain the benefits of sound records management and the role of the creators and users or records.

Training of Key Project Personnel

There is a need to increase the exposure of key personnel within the National Archives to current records management practices internationally. It is suggested that two senior members of the records management staff of the National Archives (or one person from the National Archives and another from a province) should participate in a short study visit to London where they have the opportunity to learn more of current initiatives in records and information management, and meet with IRMT consultants and staff of the Public Record Office (National Archives) for detailed discussions and learning workshops.

Participation of Experienced Records Professional from the African or Caribbean Region

Much benefit would be derived by inviting an experienced records professional/educator from a developing country to take part in the training of provincial archivists and records managers, to lead discussions and to share experiences. There are a number of highly qualified African professionals, all with PhDs in records and information management, who would be capable offulfilling this role.

Last update: 31 August 2011

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