Recordkeeping, web 2.0 and social media September 16, 2011

Creative Commons License photo credit: Cappellmeister

Last month I ran a workshop at the Local Government Web Network ( conference on recordkeeping and web 2.0. This is always a really great conference: beautifully organised, diverse and interesting presentations and an excellent group of engaged participants. At the workshop there was a whole host of interesting discussion, so here is a bit of an attempt to summarise what we all talked about.

Setting the scene

I defined the Web 2.0 world as being driven by an evolving set of online tools which enable social and business processes that are:
• open
• engaged
• interactive
• democratic
• collaborative

The Web 2.0 technologies that we focussed on included:
• blogs
• wikis
• mash ups
• Facebook
• collaborative editing tools
• Flickr
• Twitter
• cloud storage
• social bookmarking

We discussed how these technologies are transforming social and business interaction and how they are impacting on the way business is performed.

The key objective of the workshop was to focus on the strategic response that it required to this rapid shift in government business. A lot of high risk, strategic government operations are now being performed using web 2.0 technologies.

It is the role of recordkeepers across government to help their organisations integrate, leverage and utilise these new web 2.0 business systems in ways that protect the organisation and provide it with ongoing access to the business information it needs. There are incredible opportunities that are currently being offered by the web 2.0 world but we really need to be strategic in our response to them and make sure records continue to be made and kept in this evolving business environment.

Gov 2.0 – opportunities and risks

We talked a lot about ‘Gov 2.0’, the push for open, more collaborative government and discussed a number of the points outlined in the excellent Final Report of the Commonwealth Government’s Government 2.0 Taskforce, Engage: Getting on with Government 2.0
We focused on the Task Force’s conclusion that: “Though it involves new technology, Government 2.0 is really about a new approach to organising and governing. It will draw people into a closer and more collaborative relationship with their government. Australia has an opportunity to resume its leadership in seizing these opportunities and capturing the resulting social and economic benefits.”

There was general agreement that there was much to be gained by all areas of government embracing web 2.0 opportunities, but there was there was also much discussion about the current barriers to the effective use of web 2.0 in government.

In general it seemed that managers were fearful of allowing their staff access to social media sites. It seemed that in some risk averse and regulated cultures, it can be hard to foster a culture of openness and online engagement. There were also long ‘decision chains’ in some organisations and such bureaucratic processes do not necessarily work well with the type of responsiveness that is required in the social media environment.

There are also a range of genuine recordkeeping risks associated with the use of web 2.0. Some of the specific risks we focussed on included:
• volumes of data
• diversity of data
• problems caused by storing content on a range of disparate and unconnected Web 2.0 services
• the difficulties of control and damage control: ‘The real issue in web 2.0 is not ‘where is the line?’ The line always stays the same. The real issue is that the ramifications will be amplified if you cross the line in this media.’ [Victorian Managed Insurance Authority, Risk Insight 8: Social Media: What’s the Risk?, November 2010, accessible via ]
• changing nature of ‘the record’ – how do we know what is the evidence of government business in the web 2.0 world
• decreased abilities to manage ‘the record’
• decreased opportunities to own ‘the record’
• what do we do with ‘the record’?

We talked about how, as a result of the strategic nature of the business that is commonly moving to web 2.0 environments, many of the records created in these environments are going to be needed by business for quite a number of years.

However web 2.0 is a very dynamic space. Web 2.0 technologies come and go, are bought and sold at a rapid rate. How can we make sure government has the information it needs from these environments for as long as its business needs require?

Records, recordkeeping and web 2.0

We discussed the key characteristics of records as defined in the International Standard on Records Management, ISO 15489 which states that to be evidence of action, records must have the characteristics of:

Authenticity: the information is what it purports to be
Integrity: the record is complete and unaltered
Reliability: the contents can be trusted to be a full and accurate representation of the transaction
Useability: the record can be located, retrieved, presented and interpreted.

We also discussed the critical point that records must also be maintained for as long as you have business, legal and information needs for them.

We then talked about one of the points in the excellent Project 9 Report from the Government 2.0 Taskforce, Preservation of Web 2.0 Content, written by Barbara Reed (

In this report, Reed argues that recordkeeping is a mix of the downright operational and the highly strategic.  Very frequently, however, the strategic aspect of recordkeeping is overlooked as a result of the very real complexities involving in achieving the operational outcomes.

However, in this shifting business environment where the ground is moving under our feet, it is critical that a strategic approach is adopted. Now is a time where we really must step back and reassess our practice. We need to briefly move away from the operational focus and look at what is critical to business. Where are our high risks in the web 2.0 world, what records are needed to help mitigate these records and how do we make sure these records are captured and managed for as long as the organisation needs them?

Standard on digital recordkeeping

This led us on to State Records’ Standard on digital recordkeeping

The standard:
• establishes minimum requirements for digital recordkeeping in the New South Wales public sector
• enables NSW public offices to implement digital recordkeeping systems that will support business efficiency and organisational accountability
• specifies system functionality and metadata requirements that systems must meet to be regarded as ‘recordkeeping systems’
• says all high risk digital business records need to be kept in recordkeeping systems
• recordkeeping systems are business applications that can perform recordkeeping processes: creation and capture, date and time stamping, classification, linking, access and security, read-only management, authorised disposal, event logs and auditing of actions performed

We used the Standard as a framework for the rest of the workshop to work through specific web 2.0 scenarios.

Applying the Standard in the web 2.0 world

Step 1

Assess your organisation’s use of web 2.0 technologies.

What applications are being used? If they are being used for organisational objectives then they are all regarded as business systems under the terms of the Standard.

Don’t see web 2.0 or even your Council website as simply static publishing systems. They are not, they are communication systems and business systems. You need to make sure records of this communication and business are managed in these environments.

Step 2

Assess the level of risk.

You will need to determine whether the business performed in your web 2.0 applications is a high risk or strategically important for your organisation. Much of the work performed in this environment could be high risk but there does need to be a balance.

Excessive identification of risk might lead to a fear that a record of every Web 2.0 interaction should be captured and this may not be appropriate. Remember, be strategic!

Step 3

If the business is high risk, identify what records you need to make and keep to account for your organisation’s actions and decisions.

You may need to keep records about:
• the content you make available via web 2.0
• records of public comments, consultation and feedback
• business processes where web 2.0 feedback has been used as input
• process metadata about dates of content upload, user names, permissions etc

Step 4

Assess your web 2.0 tools.

Look at what the systems you are using are capable of and ask:
• can your tools enable all records identified in Step 3 be kept?
• can your web 2.0 tools meet the recordkeeping requirements in the Standard (ie creation, read-only, applying metadata for security, disposal etc)
• if not (most can’t) what are other strategies for making and keeping the information you need?

Step 5

Work out a recordkeeping option.

How can you export the records you need from your web 2.0 applications? Can you integrate your applications with an internal business system in order to protect and manage your information? What are other options you could consider?

Assessing specific government business performed in web 2.0 environments

We then spent the rest of the workshop looking through different types of specific government business that are currently being performed in web 2.0 environments and discussed:
• what is the risk
• what are the records that would be needed to manage that risk, and
• how do we make sure those records can be captured and kept.

We looked at examples of business performed using each of the following technologies or services:
• blogs
• wikis
• mash ups
• Facebook
• collaborative editing tools
• Flickr
• Twitter
• cloud storage
• social bookmarking

Many blogging applications have plug-ins for export so we discussed a range of issues surrounding these. Tools like Backupify offer good export capacities for Twitter feeds and some other web 2.0 technologies. With mash ups we talked about having good ownership and control over your data before it is made available to others to be creative with.
The big problem areas we discussed were wikis, collaborative editing tools and ownership in web 2.0.

For wikis, we looked at the examples of Diplopedia ( and Spacebook to look at the very strategic nature of a lot of the business moving to wiki environments. When key business functions move to this environment, it is critical that recordkeeping needs are reassessed to make sure that records of this business continue to be made, kept, secured and maintained.

Google docs
With collaborative editing tools like Google Docs, we discussed the very large numbers of businesses moving to these technologies because of the very flexible, collaborative working environments they can enable. But it’s critical to consider the strategic management requirements needed if you do move business to these environments:
• technical and administrative controls such as secure log in
• version controls
• revision history
• capacity to lock down pages
• back up services
• capture of appropriate metadata
• ownership between multiple collaborators
• export once complete for appropriate management in recordkeeping systems

Ownership in web 2.0
We talked about the range of systems that have been placed on Archive Team’s Death Watch (
There have been a number of precedents now, and online content stored in proprietary systems can literally disappear at any time. You will potentially have no warning and no recourse. So protect your data, know your risks, manage your records and protect your business by ensuring you have a strategic approach to recordkeeping in the web 2.0 world.

So, in summary, when using web 2.0:
• consider your business
• consider your levels of risk
• consider the information you need to do and account for your business and how long you need to have access to this information for
• consider the inherent values, risks and problems with the web 2.0 applications you use
• use all this information to develop powerful web 2.0 recordkeeping capacities for your organisation to empower its decision making and information use and reuse capacities for many years to come

One Comments

[…] apply to transactions made in these online environments. Like other recordkeeping authorities in Australia and overseas we’re keen to tease out the issues that matter and provide guidance for records […]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.