Session 203: Talking to Stakeholders about Electronic Records

Session 203: Talking to Stakeholders about Electronic Records
Guest author Eira Tansey


I attended Session 203: Talking to Stakeholders about Electronic Records This was a fun, interactive session in which we discussed how to make the case for electronic records management issues to three groups of stakeholders (records creators, administrators, and IT). The content of this panel was quite similar to the advocacy workshop I took earlier in the week. Our presenters started off with these introductory points to keep in mind:

• We know electronic records are important and need certain forms of management, but do others?
• There is not a “one size fits all” approach to making the case. Depending on the type of stakeholder, different messaging strategies will have more meaning. Identifying shared interests between the archivist/records manager and the particular stakeholder is the key to a successful relationship. In addition, always trotting out a “doomsday scenario” is not always a great way to get buy-in
• We have ignored the heavy lifting needed for managing electronic records for too long, and we can’t do it anymore

Jodie Foley of the Montana Historical Society noted that when it comes to advocacy, it’s not “one and done,” but it is critical to sustain relationships over time. When it comes to the concerns of records creators, shared interests often revolve around legal concerns (I have heard this in my own work — people are terrified to get rid of anything lest they find they need it for a future lawsuit), efficiency across business processes, and managing records well so they can be easily located. Foley talked about the perception among some records creators that records managers often “get in the way” and how our outreach must be conscientious of this perception. Records creators may think “IT is taking care of it.” When we counteract this message, we must also emphasize that we work in cooperation with IT — not that we are antagonists, or competing with them. Obviously this must go beyond messaging to forging real relationships with IT — more on that in a minute.

As part of this panel, we would break off into discussion groups to work through a set of scenarios, and then reconvene to share our talking points, and move on to the next speaker. After Foley spoke, we broke into groups to discuss the first scenario: explaining how to manage electronic records to a state’s Department of Transportation. We worked through talking points, and then each discussion group came together to share their best ideas:

• It’s in their best interest to identify and manage vital records early as part of disaster prevention
• Good electronic records management can help your area avoid embarrassment
• Empower others to “CYA”
Next, Jim Corridan of the Indiana Commission on Public Records spoke to us about how to craft messages for administrators. The concerns of this group is also centered on legal compliance, and business efficiency. In addition, they are also significantly concerned with a public relations disaster and a hit to institutional reputation. They also may be pressured to respond to calls for increased transparency and accountability. One concept I heard frequently in this session was “tripping points,” which I took to mean a form of challenges one might encounter in the advocacy process.

Corridan was very clear that using historical value as a selling point is often not effective with many administrators, since history is seen as a luxury. He suggested that an effective formula to use with administrators (and likely, all stakeholders) is “Here’s a problem, here’s a solution, here’s how we can work together.” We returned to our discussion group to discuss messaging for a scenario of a public university panel considering new projects, and pitching the archives’ need to transition to managing electronic records. Ideas from our group and others included:

• Noting that the archives has a statutory mandate to manage records, but that without the support needed to make electronic records, we’re not in compliance
• Universities view themselves as cutting edge — do they want to keep doing things in a way that is no longer satisfactory?
• Look at what “competitor” schools are doing

The final group of stakeholders we considered were IT. Information Technology teams have specific concerns around storage and management costs (often fee-based in many organizations), security standards, system efficiency, etc. IT has its own definitions that often depart from archivist/records managers’ definitions (e.g., “archive,” “governance”). It can be useful to look at what work is happening that intersects with RM from influential IT organizations such as NASCIO In other words, find out who your institution’s IT people listen to. Because CIO positions often have frequent turnover, this presents a challenge for building relationships. The last scenario our discussion group considered was how a state archive might gain IT support for why electronic records need special consideration beyond normal practice. The ideas generated in the room included:

• Emphasizing that we can help reduce IT burdens by identifying what can be removed from systems
• Framing collaboration with IT as a new and exciting project. Help them share in the glory of success.
• Do a self-assessment before approaching IT so it’s clear what your needs are and how they can help
This was a great session, and what I liked about it was the participatory nature. The panelists left us with some final thoughts:
• Go for low-hanging fruit to snowball successes
• Do your research about hot-button issues in your organization you might not be aware of
• COSA/NAGARA/SAA are going to begin some joint advocacy efforts for electronic records
• Keep an eye out for the next Electronic Records Day — held annually on October 10 (1010 — get it? If not, read up on binary code)

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