Information culture


As an Information Scientist conducting research within the discipline of Archives and Information Science, I am always met with a lack of understanding of the type of research I engage in, especially when I mention my discipline. Though people understand what transparency and accountability is, the connection is rarely made to the importance of good information management practices. I, e.g., happened to get into a discussion with a quite renowned professor as she asked me what my postdoctoral research was focusing on and I replied, “truth commissions.” The professor wondered what an information scientist had to do with truth commissions that are only concerned with excavating the truth! I could not resist asking how the truth is excavated, captured, and then relayed to society! This anecdote resonates with many people in the information management profession. Most creators of information rarely understand or worry about the information they create and are also quite unaware of the information management activities that are a result of the processes they engage in. We currently work in an information environment where we are all information creators and, therefore, information management challenges should be of concern to all people in an organization and the society at large.

Information technologies have also become a challenge to good and accountable information management since, they are often considered the solution to challenges in the digital information environment, leaving out the people issues. Since we have all become now all information creators, there seems to be an assumption that we all understand how to manage the information we create. This has meant that organizational employees are not given training in the management of information (Svard, 2014). Information is created, managed, and used by people and it is, therefore, the activities of an organization’s employees that enhance its effective management. This means that organizations face organizational, technical and cultural problems (Asproth, 2007). The organizational and technical problems have been explored by researchers such as Asproth, 2007; Asproth, Borglund, Samuelsson, & Oberg, 2010; McLeod, Childs, & Hardiman, 2010. However, the cultural issues have not received equally as much attention (Choo, Chun, Furness, Paquette, & Van den Berg, 2006; Douglas, 2010; Oliver, 2008; Svard, 2014). Furthermore, a lot of knowledge that would improve the information culture of organizations has been produced, e.g., within the records management community to promote best practice and to mitigate information management challenges (Bearman, 1994; Dollar, 2000; Duranti & Preston, 2008; Duranti & Thibodeau, 2006; McLeod et al., 2010; R. McLeod & Shipman, 2010; Shepherd & Yeo, 2003) but all this research does not seem to be well diffused in the environments in which organizations operate.

Enterprise Content Management, Records Management and Information Culture Amidst e-Government Development.


Copyright © 2017 Proscovia Svard. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Having worked with information management issues in a government institution, I comprehend what it means to implement good information and records management strategies and policies, in an environment where top management does not fully understand what one’s role is. Without the support of top management, it becomes very hard for the rest of the organizational employees to respect the policies governing the information they create. It is this lack of understanding of the work that information management professionals do that partly creates the chaotic information management environments that organizations operate in today. The people issues are: predominant, fundamental, and challenging, and they concern culture, philosophical attitudes, lack of awareness of records management and electronic records management issues, knowledge, and skills (McLeod, Childs, & Hardiman, 2011). This is why authors such as Shepherd and Yeo (2003) argued that the analysis of an organization’s culture may help information professionals to understand why an organization operates the way it does. The attitudes and norms are embedded in the type of culture that is espoused by an organization.

Culture is variably defined and Buch and Wetzel (2001, p. 40) defined culture as “a pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.” Seel (2000) looked upon culture as the daily conversations and negotiations that take place among organizational members and which are directed at finding the proper way of doing things and deriving meaning from the surrounding environment. Alvesson (2002) posited that a cultural perspective facilitates a better understanding of organizations and defines culture as the setting in which behavior, social events, institutions, and process take place and are understood. The cultural dimension is, therefore, central to aspects of organizational life. He was of the view that the centrality of culture as a concept comes from shared meanings and that organizations are systems of shared meanings. Therefore, the beliefs held in common reduce misunderstandings and wrong interpretations of meanings. Hofstede (2001, p. 9) provided an anthropologically agreed on definition of culture as, “patterned ways of thinking, feeling and reacting, acquired and transmitted mainly by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievements of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e., historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values.” Therefore, the type of culture espoused by an organization towards the management of information impacts the way organizational members value it.

Grimshaw (1995) posited in her report that human resources were key elements to an organization and its culture and that if organizations were to maximize their use, information flow and communication had to be well organized. The report further confirmed that information culture is part of corporate culture and that it is influenced by information. The use of information within an organization reflects the organizational and management style, which dictates whether information seeking and use is an individual or organizational activity. Grimshaw argued that an organization’s culture may be entrepreneurial, conservative, familial, and individualistic, led, managed, ethical or amoral.

A lot of focus has been put on information technology and yet, better computers and communication networks do not necessarily lead to better information environments. Davenport (1997) therefore proposed the term information ecology, which puts a narrow focus on technology, but addresses the way people create, distribute, understand, and use information. He argued that information ecology requires new management frameworks, incentives and attitudes toward organization hierarchy, complexity, and division of resources (Davenport, 1997). According to Davenport, ecology is the science of understanding and managing whole environments. He was against the modeling of information environments on machines and buildings and preferred living things. He defined information ecology as “holistic management of information” or “human-centered information management” (Davenport, 1997, p. 11). This kind of thinking puts humans at the center of the information world and technology on the periphery. He believed that ecological approaches to information management were more modest, behavioral and practical compared to the grand designs of information architecture and machine engineering. Six years after Davenport’s argument against the focus on information technology as a solution to information management issues, Curry and Moore (2003) also concluded that the adoption of information technology alone is not sufficient. To deliver effective information management, information technology has to be complemented with a good information culture. Therefore, in order to achieve good information management practices, organizations need to have the employees at the centre of the information management solutions.

The political, administrative, and technological challenges have affected information management practices and hence brought about new requirements on the creation and management of information (Svard, 2014). Organizations are therefore constantly undergoing change and this may stimulate the creation of different cultures. Whether an organization is public or private, it has to espouse competition, co-operation, loyalty, and trust and employee welfare. These developments are giving rise to complex cultures (Shepherd & Yeo, 2003).

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