Exploring information culture using the Information Culture Framework (ICF)

This section presents a summary of results from a study that the author carried out on information culture in three municipalities, two in Sweden, and one in Belgium in September and November, 2012, respectively. The study entailed conducting interviews in the municipalities in order to access the norms, attitudes, and the value the municipal employees had towards the management of public records. A total of 54 interviews were conducted: 21 in Belgium and 33 in the two Swedish municipalities. The categories of people interviewed included heads of departments, heads of units, architects, environmental officers, geographical information system (GIS) managers, secretaries, building permit granting officers, an archivist, archives assistants, registrars, a receptionist, and social workers. The full study is presented in the author’s PhD thesis entitled Information and Records Management Systems and the Impact of Information Culture on the Management of Public Information, 2014. The Swedish municipalities were referred to as A and B and the Belgian municipality as C. Oliver’s (2011) Information Culture Framework (ICF) was modified and used to explore the type of information culture that the municipalities espoused. It constitutes three levels as follows (Table 6.1):

Table 6.1 Oliver’s Information Culture Framework

Level

one

The fundamental layer of an organization’s information culture includes:

  • • respect for information as evidence;
  • • respect for information as knowledge;
  • • willingness to share information;
  • • trust in information;
  • • language requirements; and
  • • regional technological infrastructure.

Level

two

Skills, knowledge, and experience related to information management, which can be acquired and/or extended in the workplace:

  • • Information-related competencies, including information and computer literacy.
  • • Awareness of environmental (societal and organizational) requirements relating to information.

Level

three

The third and uppermost layer is reflected in:

  • • the information governance model that is in place and
  • • trust in organizational systems.

Source: Oliver, G. (2011). Organizational culture for information managers. Oxford: Chandos Publishing, pp. 126—127.

For the purpose of the study, the author modified Oliver’s model because all its components were not relevant to the study of the municipalities. The author, therefore, used the following modified model to pursue the objective of the study:

Source: Svard, P. (2014). Information and records management systems and the impact of information culture on the management of public information. p. 23.

All the three municipalities deployed information and records management systems to facilitate the capture and management of information and records. The study focused on the management of records.

Level One: Respect for public records as knowledge; willingness to share information; and trust in public records:

The Swedish municipalities (A and B) had a registry function, which facilitated the pluralization of records, since they were organized and could be retrieved and made available upon request to different stakeholders. Municipalities A and B were sensitive to the management of public records and they exhibited respect for records. They had a culture that endeavored to take care of public records and the Swedish officers knew the laws governing public access to government records, and the specific laws that governed their respective areas of work. The Archives Act, which in detail describes and explains how government institutions should manage their records, was only known to the registrars and archives assistants, who acted as a link between the rest of the officers and the central archives.

The fact that the Swedish municipalities had a well-developed registry also meant that there was a systematic management of public records. This, however, did not mean that there were no challenges. Email management was still problematic, and it was expressed that some officers had problems in determining what emails constituted public records. In Sweden, email correspondence is not differentiated from traditional correspondence and hence should be managed in a similar manner (Granstrom, Lundquist, & Fredriksson, 2000). The number of emails received a day also increased the risk of neglecting or deleting public records. However, email correspondence that was identified as public records was sent to the registry for registration. There were also paper records that were supposed to have been submitted to the central archives, but were still being kept at the departments. Municipality B experienced that the bulk of paper records had become difficult to use as a reference source.

The Swedish municipalities had qualified archivists, who were not so much involved in the management of current records. The registrars, who did not have the same level of education in records management and a holistic understanding of the entire records continuum like the archivists did, were more involved in the management of current records. They were hence in constant contact with the rest of the municipal officers. The registrars had only attended courses in the registration of public records and were said to be good at their work.

In the Belgian case study (case C), the capture, management, organization, and the pluralization of records was problematic since the registry function was underdeveloped. The respect shown towards the management of public records depended on how highly regulated the function of a particular department was. This conclusion was based on the information that some of the informants shared with the author. They emphasized that they could not afford to make mistakes and that there were a series of records that they had to maintain on file because lack of proper documentation had legal repercussions. However, lack of a fully developed registry function compromised the effective management of public records and made them difficult to trace. This further resulted in loss of time, since a good number of the employees, especially the newly recruited, spent most of their precious time looking for records. The officers’ email boxes were according to the law private and hence beyond the records management function that took care of the municipality’s records. Municipality C was, however, planning to develop e-services, which raises questions regarding the privatized email boxes. Most people communicate using email, but the informants confirmed that it was the paper record that was considered official.

In Municipality C, it was people who did not have records management training who were in charge of the active management of the records. The municipality had staff members who registered incoming public records, but they were not trained registrars. The archivist was again responsible for the management of the records that had to be sent to the archives. He was not actively involved in the management of the active records. This evidently caused problems as people instituted their own ways of managing records, and lack of a records management policy made the situation worse. The informants expressed frustration over the fact that they did not know what to with the records. Lack of records management policy made it hard to create, capture, organize, and to manage the generated records. The abscence of records management guidelines meant that important records were destroyed without consultation with the archivist. This kind of environment promoted inadequate records management behavior where some members of staff did not have respect for records.

Managing records for knowledge and information sharing was not fully developed in any of the three cases. The registries in municipalities A and B facilitated access, use, and reuse of records. A folder structure was also used to share information on the Intranet. Some of the information systems intended to facilitate knowledge management and information sharing posed integration challenges and instead created information islands. In municipality A, despite efforts to invest in an expensive system to create a common repository that would facilitate records management and hence foster knowledge and information sharing, some of the employees expressed frustration about the system. The intent was to integrate most of the information systems with the case and records management system, but this was not feasible. The system was to manage as many business processes as possible, but it had so far only facilitated the inclusion of one process. Municipality B had an integration problem too, which resulted in the double registration of public records and frustrated employees and, the system suppliers were not being very helpful.

Municipality C also faced systems integration problems and these were caused by the procurement process that was not coordinated. This frustrated the staff who decided to neglect the use of the records management system that had been put in place to facilitate, records capture, knowledge and information sharing. The system was implemented to capture records and to serve as a common repository but it was insufficient in functionality. The majority of those interviewed had developed a culture of not using the system it because they claimed it was not user-friendly.

Lack of consultation and collaboration around the procurement of information management systems in the three case studies led to an IT-infrastructure with disparate information systems. This did not promote information access and hindered the effective use of information.

As regards the management of records in all the three cases, most of the interviewed officers shared their experiences with each other. Consultations were made with those officers who were seen as “experts” in records management in the departments. However, the so-called experts were not experts in records management, but they knew the laws that governed their specific areas of work and the type of documentation that was required to be maintained. They did not have a holistic view of records management issues and easily brushed off questions that were beyond their understanding, as the responsibility of the archives. A Head of Unit in Municipality A argued that archives were still seen as a “museum” in his municipality, instead of regarding them as information banks to be actively used as per the continuum model. This kind of view was also prevalent in all the three case studies even though some of the participants consulted the archives on a regular basis, for reference purposes. The majority of the participants looked at archives as a place to preserve records for historical purposes only.

In the Swedish cases, despite the many years some of the officers had spent at their jobs, the management of public records was routine bound. Most of the interviewed officers had worked for the municipalities for many years and handled records as a matter of routine. There was a feeling that people knew what to do with public records. One of the archives assistants in Municipality B, however, wondered if some of the officers understood why they managed records the way they did. In other words, the management of records was something a person did because the law dictated so. Except in one case of a Unit Head, officers did not make reference to the fact that records were a tool for knowledge management, information sharing, and efficiency. Some of the experts were excluded from the early phases of the records management continuum and this is why improvements directed at the information management environment were fragmentary.

Level 2: Records management skills, knowledge, and experience, which can be acquired and/or extended in the work place:

The registrars in Municipality A had been offered a course for registrars and they also had attended courses for experienced registrars. Their head of unit confirmed that they were people who were experts in their area and had long experience since they had worked at other local administrations. However, they were not people with substantial university studies but had mostly received internal training. In case study B, it was the archival assistants and the registry staff who were referred to as the professionally trained records management officers, and the experts. However, one of the archives assistants confirmed that she did not feel so confident when it came to the laws governing public information or other records management issues. Her education background was basic. The second archives assistant did not even know whether she still had that role archives, because by the time the interviews were conduted, a new system was being introduced. Everybody was to get involved in the registration of public records. This was a new development that required officers to register the cases they handled directly into the system, instead of sending them to the registrars like the practice was. She had too undertaken a seven points university course in records management.

In Municipality C, the assistants who worked as the link between the business officers and the archives service were not qualified records assistants or managers. They had no records management background. The archives service took care of the records when they were no longer active. There was a big delay between the time of creation and the time when the archives service claimed the records. This created a state of anarchy where officers created their own systems. Most officers kept everything, which also created an information overload and made the search and use of records difficult.

Some of the informants in Municipalities A and B confessed that they could always become better, and that they would appreciate records management courses or sessions that would give them a deeper understanding of the laws governing the area. Doing things by routine is good, but in a changing world even those who have several years’ experience can be challenged by the changes that sometimes take place in organizations. Some of the officers did not think they needed any records management training because they had worked for the municipalities for a long time and knew the procedures. However, they felt unsure when it came to the management of email correspondence. Further, the courses that were given to the staff responsible for records management were quite elementary in comparison with the current complex environment.

In the Belgian case, the informants lacked motivation to manage public records. Records were managed according to personalized systems and to facilitate the execution of one’s work. This was not good for the organization, especially since the municipality recruited young people who moved on without structuring the information and the knowledge they created. This meant that newcomers had to sometimes start from scratch or waste a lot of their initial time figuring out what their predecessors had done. The informants confirmed that they were never offered any courses in records management. They expressed interest in a course that would foster a full understanding of records management. The informants felt very unsure when managing public records since the municipality did not have a records management policy and there were no guidelines to facilitate the management of public records. They expressed frustration over not knowing what they should do with the records.

In case C records management was not a prioritized issue by management and no courses were being offered to the municipal employees. One of the departmental heads, however, argued that improvements were being made and they were mostly being pushed by the archives service. He further opined that records management should have been an issue on the management agenda. The legal framework governing public records was only known to a few of the interviewed officers. The officers were expected to know the laws that governed the records that they generated. They however expected the archives service to let them know how long public records had to be maintained. This enormously affected the entire records management environment, since the insecurity felt by the officers made them keep “everything.” “We keep everything” was a common phrase among the officers that the author interviewed. It automatically led to an information overload in the systems and hence overshadowed important information. It also made retrieval of records problematic. There was no records management policy except for the email policy, which was old and not known to the majority of the officers.

The research findings from all the three municipalities confirmed that records management was not regarded as a function that needed fully qualified personnel. Training was not prioritized and when it took place, it was often in conjunction with the implementation of a new information management systems. Records management was mostly done by routine and the officers confirmed that they consulted their fellow colleagues or immediate managers whom they looked upon as “experts.” Though some informants were of the view that the management groups of the Swedish case studies did not prioritize records management a good majority confirmed that they did.

 
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