IG practices and best practices of Swiss public administrations: the case of the canton of Geneva

Context

Another recent project conducted in Switzerland studied the maturity level of IG practices in public administrations (Anderfuhren & Romagnoli, 2018). The case of the canton of Geneva is presented here in more detail. Switzerland, although integrating notions of IG at the federal level - for example the eCH standards in the eGovernment (Association eCH, n.d.) - has the peculiarity of having a great deal of operational independence at the cantonal level, particularly in the field of information management. Although Geneva is no different, as a canton it operates according to two administrative levels - the cantonal and the communal.

At the cantonal level, information management is shared between the eight cantonal departments, all of which operate in an independent manner.

Therefore, everyone has their own information professional. At the communal level, each municipality is also independent of each other. However, document management is rarely entrusted to a professional. It is often managed by the municipal employees, who do not have appropriate training. Moreover, it is important to note that Geneva is at the same time a canton and a city - the administrative organisation of the city resembles that of the canton, with its six departments, each of which has its own information officer/archivist.

Objectives

The purpose of this work was to understand how IG is defined and implemented within Geneva’s public administrations. In addition, it reflected on how to better integrate IG to improve the performance of services. More specifically, we: 1) profiled the existing gaps between information management as presented in the literature and as it is experienced in professional practice;

  • 2) proposed a definition of an IG approach for public administration; and
  • 3) proposed a framework to be applied in European public administrations.

Methodology

In order to measure and compare the gap between governance presented in the literature and that experienced by professionals, we adopted a comparative analytical approach: we focused on content analysis, both deductive and inductive. We selected two type of sources: the documentary sources, which represented our theoretical corpus, and the testimony of the information professionals, which covered the practical dimensions. Then we established two collection tools: a reading grid containing our documentary references, and a semi-structured interview guide to collect testimonials of the participants (Figure 5.1).

In order to establish the sample, the target population was defined. It consisted of information professionals active in Geneva public administration,

S.l Data collection schema Source

Figure S.l Data collection schema Source: Anderfuhren and Romagnoli (2018, p. 3) i.e. the archivists. This profile was selected because the archivists plays a strategic role in the IG of organisations. The research was based on the degree of expertise and business skills in the field of information. Only the professionals with a background in information sciences were kept in the final sample. The content analysis of the interviews was undertaken using the NVivo (QSR International, 2020) software.

Results: IG perception and practices as reported by information managers and archivists in public administration in Geneva

The canton of Geneva has two administrative levels: the cantonal level and the municipal level. The perception of what IG represents is not the same at both levels. For cantonal archivists, the emphasis was on the accessibility of information, while governance meant bringing together all the dimensions of an administration as part of a global vision. In their view, it has the elements of ethics and values, reflecting a positive image of the state to the public. For municipal archivists, IG makes it possible to overcome the silos between the different services. Despite these differences, the participants agreed on many points, including the obstacles to the implementation of IG and the risks if it is badly implemented.

The most significant obstacle was employee resistance, as they perceived IG as an attempt to control their actions. The participants observed a refusal on the part of employees to share information with other departments, as there was a consensus that this might result in losing control of skills and essentially a vulnerability, i.e. a pathway to redundancy. This is where the presence of the archivist is necessary because s/he complements development of the skills of each person, which enables them to be involved and provides value. Among the identified risks were the loss of information, the excessively long response times, the lack of traceability of information, and the unauthorised destruction of documents.

During each interview, the participants were asked to self-assess the maturity of their practices according to the ARMA model’s five levels of development (substandard, in development, essential, proactive, transformational) (ARMA, 2019a). Figure 5.2 presents an overview of participants’ average assessed maturity level for each of the ARMA principles (ARMA, 2019b). The most attributed level was the third - essential - which aligns to meeting legal and regulatory standards as well as business requirements. The dimensions that were identified as the most mature were those of protection and conservation. This is explained by the fact that mandatory laws and regulations govern these two principles, which leaves little freedom in practice.

The research resulted in the creation of a list of proposals for good practices that are easy to implement and adapt to different contexts. They focus mainly on the human and collaborative aspects, because the most resistance was found in these two aspects. In this vein, we strongly recommend considering the following actions

Average maturity level for each of the ARMA principles for all participants

Figure 5.2 Average maturity level for each of the ARMA principles for all participants

  • • recognize information as a resource
  • • value information management activity, and to recognize it as useful work that requires specific skills
  • • involve each stakeholder in the process
  • • improve transparency and availability of information
  • • document all your actions
  • • control access to information
  • • think as a team, for the team
  • • analyze the information needs of each department
  • • go step by step, process by process
  • • communicate and disclose the governance programme based on feedback and exchanges with other administrations that have undertaken comparable projects
  • • establish collaborations with other organisations using IG approaches and tools to join a helpful network.
 
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