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close this bookArchives and Records Management for Decision Makers: a RAMP study (UNESCO; 1990; 79 pages)
View the documentPreface
View the document1. Introduction
Open this folder and view contents2. Origins of records and archives
Open this folder and view contents3. Records and archives in decision making
Open this folder and view contents4. Records management
close this folder5. Archives
View the document5.1. Provenance and sanctity of the original order
View the document5.2. Acquisition
View the document5.3. Accessioning
View the document5.4. Arrangement and description
View the document5.5. Access
View the document5.6. Priority of archives
Open this folder and view contents6. Planning for archives
Open this folder and view contents7. Legislative authority
Open this folder and view contents8. Staffing
Open this folder and view contents9. Conclusion
View the documentAppendix 1 - List of national archival institutions that responded
View the documentAppendix 2 - List of respondents to second questionnaire
View the documentAppendix 3 - Staffing levels in relation to population

5.5. Access

After the records have been described the next step is to index them in order to facilitate user access. The process of indexing is itself a time consuming exercise but it is essential because many users do not know where to find the information that they want. Even in those cases where they may have some idea they would still find it difficult to find out where other relevant information may be found. In indexing, the archivist is able to provide that ultimate service to the user in so far as all archives relating to a particular subject are brought together enabling a user to access the multiple sources that exist. The decision maker thus is able to access archives generated by different ministries and departments and to identify for instance relevant projects that may have been carried out by others beside his own ministry or department. To this extent duplication of effort can be eliminated while better quality decisions can be reached based on a consultation of all the available archival sources.

As has already been shown however decision makers are not making full use of the archival potential that exists. Estimates that were given of the numbers of decision makers that used archives in relation to the total users of archives were very low.

5.5.1 Thirty six institutions were able to approximate the number of decision makers who used archives in relation to all the users. Their estimates ranged from 0,05 to 100%. Further analysis showed the following: In seven institutions the decision makers were one percent and under. In eighteen institutions the percentage was between one and ten percent. In eight institutions it was between ten and fifty percent. Two institutions reported very high usage rates. In the Karnataka State Archives of India it was estimated to be 85% while in the Centro de Informacion Documenta de Archivos in Madrid it was 100%. The Australian Archives was the only one able to give more precise information quantifying it as 17% of all inquiries, 13% of all visits and 57% of all items issued in the Search Room. In many of the institutions, it was a question that was difficult to answer, and institutions reported that they did not keep such statistics, were not able to quantify or found it very difficult to assess. The Riksarkivet in Norway responded in the ultimate by saying that it was "impossible to answer".

And yet the quantification of the use of archives by decision makers is important. It is an accepted principle in archives that generally archives exist to serve other than the needs of those that created them in the first place.

If the approximations given above are anything to go by it is clear that decision makers form a very small proportion of those that use the archives. Twenty five of the institutions approximated them to be less than 10% while several others, unable to quantify, nevertheless reported the numbers to be tiny, very small or negligible.

Does this mean that archives by and large are of no relevance to the decision makers.? As reported earlier the decision makers themselves clearly indicated that they did not really use those records that normally are in the archives, i.e. those that are over 25 years old.

The answer perhaps lies in two areas. To begin with the real reason that decision makers do not use archives is because they are unaware of the information that is contained in the archives. There probably are many instances when decision makers fumble and search in vain for required information without knowing that the information is readily available in the archives. By their very nature. archival institutions tend to be located away from the busy inner cities with their attendant atmospheric pollutions. The archival institutions therefore are often located in the serene and pollution free environments far away from the record creating agencies. Decision makers therefore dismiss the existence of archives. They have no easy access to the archives finding aids. Very few archival institutions have bothered to deposit in the creating agencies copies of their finding aids. Even in today' s technologically oriented society when on-line access is relatively easy to provide, there are no terminals linking the record creating agencies to the archival institutions where the records are kept. It is of course not feasible to transfer the actual information from the archival documents onto the computer medium but it is relatively easy to automate the finding aids and therefore give the users instant access to the existence of the required information. Only eighteen of the institutions had automated or started automating their finding aids while forty seven had not. It was also significant that only nineteen institutions were able to affirm that user departments had facilities that made it possible for them to know what relevant material had been created by their departments or by other departments or was being stored in the Records Centre. Thirty six institutions responded in the negative on this point.

The crux of the matter is that archival institutions have not, if one is to borrow a term common in the private sector, adopted an aggressive marketing policy. That policy hinges on getting the product onto the market rather than on waiting for the market to come to the product. But how could archival institutions achieve this without compromising their traditional scholarly status conferred on them by generations of archivists and archival practice. If the archivists were to adopt such an approach, what would be the implications for the decision makers? There is no doubt that at the moment there is a gap between the archives and the decision making process. That gap can be closed by the adoption of new strategies on the part of the custodians of the archives as well as on the part of the decision makers.

In the first instance it is necessary to analyse and quantify with precision the needs of the decision makers. Decisions are being made all the time and at all levels of the governmental structure. The type of decision as well as the quality of the decision is of course dependent on the nature and type of the administrative structure in which it is being made. Some decisions need to be made quickly while others cannot be made without extensive consultation. The speed with which the decisions are made or the length of time that it takes to make the consultations will of course vary. The basic aim at all times however will be to make the decisions as quickly as possible whether or not some consultation must take place.

The nature of governmental structures also varies tremendously as does the process by which decisions are reached. The efficiency of the bureaucratic machinery and its slowness or inefficiency is both a matter of opinion as well as of values. It is thus very difficult to prescribe universal solutions that would enhance the decision making process. The needs of the decision makers will vary according to the particular circumstances. In all cases however, it is necessary to analyse the needs of the decision makers.

The analysis will indicate the particular needs of the decision makers. In general, information is required in order to conduct all aspects of the governmental process. The formulation, presentation and control of budgets, the recruitment, maintenance, advancement and discharge of personnel, the purchasing, receipt, storage and issuance of goods, the formulation and implementation of projects, all these depend on information and require that decisions be made at various points. The questions of who to recruit, promote or discharge, of what project to give priority to or to allocate additional resources, the countries to establish diplomatic relationships with or cut ties, the policies to follow in relation to the economy, the choice of systems to provide basic services such as health, education and social security, the importation and exportation of certain products, the development and promotion of youth, of sport and of culture all these need and require that decisions be made.

But decisions are not easy to make because their making has consequences that are often difficult to accurately forecast. All decision makers ideally want to make the best decisions. Making the best decisions implies the consideration of all the relevant factors. Considering all the relevant factors however can only be done when all the relevant information has been brought together.

Decisions at the higher levels of administration are that much more difficult to make. The rise of Management Information Systems and Decision Support Systems testifies to the need to have information bases that can assist the process of management and decision making.

Besides assessing the needs of decision makers for information it is also necessary to assess the adverse consequences that result from the absence or non-usage of information. Archival institutions however, by and large do not make these assessments. They do not have that constant dialogue with their users which can enable them to keep tabs on the user requirements. The users on the other hand do not bother to engage in that dialogue which can assist them in their decision making. For the archival institutions to raise the awareness in the users as to the existence of the archives they have to have some idea of what is currently being done in the ministries and departments. They need to monitor the policies and projects of the ministries and departments, of directions being plotted, of programmes, that are succeeding or faltering and of areas of shortage in terms of the supply of information. Such monitoring is obviously an ongoing process requiring a feedback mechanism or perhaps the physical presence of the archive institution in the actual ministry or department. It can however be achieved by for instance identifying staff in the ministries and departments who are then sensitized as to the role and existence of the archives so that they keep track of developments at the archival institutions as well as monitoring the situation in the ministries and departments and bridge the two.

The constant monitoring or timely provision of archives to the decision makers can also be achieved by utilising today' s technological tools. If the finding aids to the archival collections are automated it should be possible to provide online facilities to the users or depositing ministries and departments enabling and encouraging the decision makers to scour the complete range of their information resources before making decisions. Quality decisions should be based on consulting all the existent information resources as contained in the current, semi-current and non-current records. A good decision maker should thus in the first instance find out what information exists in those records that are held in the offices and the registry. He should then check to see if relevant information exists in the records that are kept in storerooms and strongrooms. that have been transferred to the Records Centre or that have become archives. He should with ease be able to identify that information which has been disposed of and no longer exists so that he does not waste his time searching for that which is no longer available. And yet many decision makers do not have the capability or the means to identify and access the relevant information resources available. The existence and availability of archives need not be provided on an on-line basis. Printouts can regularly be produced and distributed to the relevant offices. Whenever new material has been added to the archival collection or transferred to the Records Centre or from the Records Centre to the archives then this information must be made known to the decision makers.

At present archival institutions attempt to publicise the existence of information in their collections by publishing a variety of catalogues. In recent times it has become fashionable to produce catalogues that describe special collections or that are based on a particular media such as photographs, maps' slides and films. This is indeed an important and crucial service but there is a shortcoming in terms of the distribution of these publications. It is possible and likely that such publications are deposited in the libraries of the ministries and departments. One would certainly hope so and yet one suspects that this may rarely be the case. One can imagine the difference and the impact it would make to the decision makers if each office in a ministry had as a standard reference point copies of the records transfer lists, to show what is in the storeroom or strongroom or that which has been transferred to the Records Centre. There would equally be a big difference if within the offices there existed copies of the finding aids to the collections or catalogues as produced by the archival institutions. The decision making process would also be profoundly affected and enhanced if periodically the decision makers received updates on what had just been processed or added to the archival collections or if the decision makers were constantly reminded that as they were about to survey a particular geographical area to decide on the siting of a road or dam, that other ministries or departments had also done some work in the area perhaps for different purposes but having gathered vital and valuable data and information.

The question of the siting of a dam or road is a very interesting case in point. For the road or dam to be built it will be necessary not only to study the terrain and identify the most suitable route or position but the choice of siting would have to be made against the impact of such siting in terms of the population and other affected elements such as vegetation and animals. Quite often therefore the ministry or department that builds roads and dams will study the socioeconomic factors, the distribution of population, the location of farms and villages, the economic and social infrastructures and the impact, benefits and drawbacks of various alternative sitings. Such investigation may be made in absolute ignorance of the fact that other ministries and departments have undertaken similar work. The department of housing services may have researched the population patterns in order to decide where to site a new village or housing estate. The Department of Education may have undertaken investigations in attempting to find the best possible site for a new school, technical college or university. The Ministry of Health may have also done some work in relation to the building of additional health facilities such as clinics and hospitals.

It can be seen that while the activities of ministries and departments may be specialised in their own way they nevertheless within any given geographical context all relate to that same geographical entity. All of them will approach their responsibilities differently but it should not be forgotten that they are all dealing with the same physical area, the same population, the same infrastructures. It has already been indicated from the questionnaire responses that duplication of effort is obviously taking place, that certain disasters could have been avoided and that mistakes have been made through failure to access the available information resources.

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