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Information management

National Archives of Australia and National Archives of Australia Advisory Council Annual Report 2015-16

Australian Government entities face challenges in managing information and records in a rapidly changing digital environment. With increased demands for openness and new ways of creating, storing and accessing information, the Archives assists entities to build their digital information and records management capabilities, and to equip them to meet their obligations under the Archives Act in appropriate, contemporary and cost-effective ways. The Archives:

  • authorises and monitors the retention, destruction and transfer of Commonwealth records
  • sets standards for information and records management in entities
  • provides practical assistance via information and records management products and advice
  • advises entities on changes in information and records management approaches and technologies, including implementation of the Digital Transition and Digital Continuity 2020 policies
  • contributes to, and consults widely on, broader information and records management approaches that meet government expectations for transparency and accountability, and the business needs of entities.

Digital transition and continuity

In October 2015 the Secretary for the Department of Finance, Jane Halton AO, PSM, launched the Archives’ Digital Continuity 2020 policy. This policy extends and builds on the success of the Digital Transition policy, and supports efficiency, innovation, interoperability, information re-use and accountability by integrating robust digital information and records management into all government business processes.

The policy requires entities to manage their information as an asset and to keep it in an accessible digital form for as long as it is required. Information systems and processes must also be interoperable to enable information to be found, managed, shared and re-used. The policy sets a number of targets for entities to achieve by 2020.

The Archives reports annually to the Minister on the status of digital information and records management across the Australian Government. In 2015 the Archives also reported to the Prime Minister on the progress entities had made over four years in transitioning to effective digital information and records management. These reports noted that significant improvements in digital information and records management had been made, including 74 per cent of entities reporting that they would transition to fully digital practices by 2016, an increase of 66 per cent over four years.

Check-up Digital – an online questionnaire developed by the Archives to enable entities to measure their digital information and records management maturity and set a clear direction for improved digital practices – was completed by 99 per cent of eligible entities in 2015. Results show improvements in the degree to which entities work digitally by default, senior management support for digital information and records management, and the availability and security of information.

The triennial survey ‘Information and records management practices in Australian Government agencies’ was undertaken in 2016, with a completion rate of 87 per cent of eligible entities. This survey gathers data on entities’ information and records management practices. Survey results will guide the Archives’ policies and product development, and support strategic projects and initiatives including the Digital Continuity 2020 policy.

Records authorities

The Archives Act provides the authority for the Archives to select and retain Australian Government information of archival value. Three selection principles inform this process and ensure that information in the national archival collection remains relevant and appropriate in the digital environment. These cover:

  • government authority, action and accountability
  • individual identity, interaction with government, and rights and entitlement
  • knowledge and understanding of Australia’s history, society, culture and people.

The principles also form the basis for developing and implementing records authorities – administrative instruments that authorise the retention and disposal of government information. This process includes:

  • negotiating with entities to identify records of national archival value and ensure their appropriate maintenance
  • authorising the retention or destruction of records that do not have national archival value
  • permitting the transfer of custody or ownership of records outside the Australian Government where appropriate.

During the reporting period the Archives began a new process of developing records authorities for small entities that may not possess the necessary skills and resources. The process involves a workshop between the entity and the Archives to carry out research and analysis, and create some of the required documentation.

Australian Government liaison and training

The Archives’ Government Agencies Information Network (GAIN Australia) keeps entity staff up to date with new developments in information and records management, and provides opportunities to share resources and seek advice via an online forum, face-to-face networking events and a monthly e-bulletin. During 2015–16 GAIN Australia forums were held in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Darwin, with a total attendance of 387 Australian Government staff.

During the reporting period the Archives’ Agency Service Centre, which responds to requests for advice on information and records management, received 473 enquiries. In addition, entity staff continued to access the advice contained in the Archives’ online information and records management resources. In 2015–16 these resources received nearly 764,000 page views.

The Archives continued to provide training to assist Australian Government entities to effectively manage their information and records, and to achieve digital transition and digital continuity. Twenty-eight courses and workshops involving 319 participants from 125 entities were held around Australia.

Following the launch of the Digital Continuity 2020 policy, briefings were held for Australian Government staff in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Perth. A total of 239 staff attended these briefings. A vendor briefing, attended by 49 people, was also held to highlight opportunities for information and records management software vendors.

During the reporting period the Archives uploaded four short videos to YouTube – Managing Email, What’s in a Name?, Meta…What? Metadata! and Information Matters. These videos help build digital information and records management knowledge and capabilities across the Australian Government.

Information management sector

Through membership of Standards Australia, the Archives continued to contribute to the development of key information and records management standards. An Australian and New Zealand standard for a recordkeeping metadata property reference set, based on the Archives’ Australian Government Recordkeeping Metadata Standard (AGRkMS 2.0), was published during the reporting period. The Archives also contributed to a major revision of the international standard for records management (ISO 15489), which was published in April 2016.

In 2015–16 Archives staff made presentations at three key annual professional forums – International Council on Archives (ICA) conference in Iceland, Records and Information Management Professionals Australasia ‘InForum’ conference and Australian Society of Archivists conference, as well as a number of government and technology-related conferences.

May is Information Awareness Month – a collaborative initiative among the information, records, archives, library, knowledge and data management communities. It aims to increase public awareness of information and its place in all aspects of daily life. The theme for Information Awareness Month 2016 was ‘Investing in information governance’, with guest speaker New South Wales Information Commissioner Elizabeth Tydd presenting real-life cases about information governance for open government.

Ms Tydd also presented the Archives’ 2016 Awards for Digital Excellence. Recognising excellence in the management, use and re-use of digital information by Australian Government entities, the awards celebrate innovation, efficient government, user-focused client interfaces and greater transparency of government information.

Strategic international relationships

International Council on Archives

The Archives’ Director-General continued his four-year term as president of the ICA. The ICA is dedicated to the effective management of records and the preservation, care and use of the world’s archival heritage.

Other Archives staff are members of ICA committees, including the Records Management Expert Group, Archive Buildings and Environments Expert Group and the Programme Commission, which sets broad directions to support the strategic objectives of the Council.

Throughout 2015–16 Archives staff attended meetings in their capacity as ICA officers to assist in the development of international standards and contribute expertise to the global discourse on archival practice, and information and records management.

The Archives continued to play a leadership role in the Pacific Regional Branch of the International Council on Archives (PARBICA), for which Archives staff also manage the treasury and communications functions. In September 2015 the PARBICA Conference was held in Auckland. It was attended by representatives from 14 Pacific nations. Archives staff helped to organise the conference and made contributions to the professional program.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

UNESCO’s Memory of the World Programme celebrates the world’s documentary heritage. Its mission is to facilitate preservation of, assist universal access to, and increase awareness of this documentary heritage. In October 2015, the Director-General was elected a vice-president of the International Advisory Committee of the Memory of the World Programme – a position he will hold for the next two years.

UNESCO’s Platform to Enhance the Sustainability of the Information Society Transglobally (PERSIST) is a digital strategy for information sustainability, and addresses the difficulties of maintaining long-term preservation of digital information. The Archives’ Director-General is chair of the PERSIST Technology Taskforce and a member of the PERSIST Steering Committee.

Other initiatives

During the reporting period the Archives strengthened ties with other countries by hosting:

  • delegations from Japan, Indonesia, the Sultanate of Oman, Fiji and Hong Kong
  • a visit by Vice-Speaker of the House of Representatives in Japan, Mr Tatsuo Kawabata, and other members of the National Diet
  • a visit by Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia staff to share ideas on digitisation, digital transition and transfer, and to discuss collaboration for 2016–17
  • National Archives of Fiji staff to undertake professional development placements in the areas of records management and digitisation under the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade-funded Twinning Program.

In 2015–16 the Archives received a grant from the Australia–Japan Foundation to assist in the preservation of 800 metres of Japanese company records. Approximately 3500 boxes of records were seized from Japanese companies operating in Australia in 1941 under the Trading with the Enemy Act 1939. The Archives is currently working with the Japanese national archives to repatriate this collection to Japan.

Under funding from the Council on Australia–Latin American Relations, the Archives assisted the Office of the City Historian in Havana, Cuba.

In April 2016 the Archives signed an accord with the French Archives Nationales to collaborate on the program Imagination, Memory and Experience. To be implemented over the next six years, it will include the delivery of seminars, professional exchanges and an exhibition drawing on the shared histories documented in the collections of both national archives. The accord was signed in the presence of the Governor-General of Australia and the French Minister for Culture during a state visit to France.