Lost Conversations, Lost Decisions, Lost History…

Originally posted on “TalkStandards”, 11th November 2009

There is no debate that standards have always played an important role in the design and delivery of eGovernment systems, since the mid-1990s we have been seeing standards play critical roles in data exchange, authentication and the way that information is ultimately presented back to the user.

Early eGoverment systems represented a small revolution for many governments, providing ways to increase levels of administrative efficiency while at the same time providing services that were much more broadly available than in previous years.

However, if we turn and look specifically at agencies responsible for archiving governments information then the shift to digitally delivered services also brought some new challenges. Archiving paper is well understood, archiving digital records adds complexity that is still being worked out in many jurisdictions. Only now are we starting to see standards emerge for storage and maintenance of these digital records, over ten years after we saw the mass shift to digital by governments all over the world.

The issues will be obvious to many, governments have a decade wide void in the records that they have managed to keep, information has been simply lost as individual computers and email inboxes have been redeployed or the hardware has been recycled.

At this point in time we are witnessing a second iteration of that revolution, governments, citizens and businesses are collaboratively talking about Government 2.0 (or gov20), examining ways that they will use microblogging, social media and the publishing of massive government datasets to find new ways for government to interact with citizens and for developers to deliver a range of tools that could not be developed by government alone.

Within these gov20 conversations we are seeing more than just the digitization of government services, politicians are finding new ways of communicating directly with their electorate and senior departmental officials are finding new ways to more deeply understand the people that their services ultimately serve.

So once again we are seeing a massive shift in the technology that is being used to run the business of government, and once again we don’t yet have the standards to retain the conversations that take place over microblogging services, or the huge amount of inbound information that departments will eventually use as part of their decision making processes that they collect from an array of social networking tools.

As a standards community, in support of the ongoing evolution of eGovernment, now is the time for us to start to think about how we will solve these complex challenges. Work needs to begin on archiving standards that will retain the information that is driving decisions today and as technology plays an increasingly larger role in the business of government archiving standards needs to be a core part of systems design, not a problem that we try and solve after the fact.

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Tim Constantine

Agreed. Suggestions?

This concern may be a show-stopper for a lot of agencies. I really don’t have any answers though other than to educate people on exactly what a public record is and isn’t and to suggest that maybe there should be 2 sides to these collaborative tools — 1 for the discussion and an “attic” for the conversation that has become a public record. (On our internal wiki at our organization we have a section we call the attic where we put our outdated forms and policies).