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Final Report on Another Path to Recordkeeping - Profile of the Information Specialist


Introduction

The Corporate Management and Government Records Sector at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) are pursuing an innovative initiative to define and develop a specialized role for a recordkeeping function within the Government of Canada. They are undertaking a suite of assessment projects to comprehensively explore and develop the issue. This project, on organizational design is one aspect of the overall initiative.

This report is compiled based on a review of background materials related to the assessment projects, interviews with key informants within LAC and in other Government Departments and with benefit of current thinking on organizational structure. It is prepared to further the discussion on this important new role within the Government of Canada and notably explore how to best situate it within the broad spectrum of public service delivery forums.

Background

Library and Archives Canada, with support from the Clerk of the Privy Council and the Secretary of the Treasury Board, identified the need to proactively address challenges brought to bear on public service delivery and administration by the "information revolution."1 Governance and accountability face new issues and challenges through digital and computer based communication technologies and, the recordkeeping function seeks to rise to these challenges.

An ADM Task Force on Recordkeeping emerged from Roundtable discussions in 2006 and has provided oversight for a number of subject specific working groups. Recordkeeping is defined as:

"... A framework of accountability and stewardship in which records are created, captured, and managed as a vital business asset and knowledge resource to support effective decision making and achieve results for Canadians."

GC IM Policy, July 2007

Working Groups identified the need for "the development and elaboration of a recordkeeping regime" designed to move the Information Management function from a back-end to a front-end business model. Recordkeeping shifts the focus from what to do with records during and after their intended use, to - how to manage and in fact, create records as a business asset from inception. This represents a significant shift in how and when organizations think about their information.

Organizational Design

Within the context of LAC's assessment projects, this paper explores issues of locating the function within the Government structure, how and where to place this important role. First, a brief discussion on the elements or criteria important to organizational design is helpful.

Webster's says...

To organize is to give orderly structure to or put into working order; and structure is a manner in which something is constructed, the whole of essential parts or supporting framework.

An organizational structure is the assembly of component parts required to fulfill a mandate or, better still, to achieve goals and objectives. It deliberately links roles, systems and processes in support of business strategy, with defined governance (and accountability).

At the lowest level, component parts are the tasks and activities required to produce outputs towards desired (and measurable) outcomes and impacts. The tasks and activities are clustered into jobs or positions, usually grouping together like and complementary skills, knowledge and competencies. Once jobs are defined, an assessment of workload or demand is required to identify the number of positions needed.

Deciding on work groups and hierarchy results in the structure of the organization and, importantly influences success. There are many options available in designing an organization, and these are seen through out the Government of Canada program and service delivery. There are functional designs, grouping together like expertise and activities for a stated program or service. Process designs look at stages of development and organize around start to finish in the horizontal steps towards results (for example: from development to design to implement and evaluate). Geographic structures organize according to activities and services delivered to a defined boundary. And, there are mixed models, attempting to capitalize on the strengths of multiple models.

Identifying the benefits derived from organizational structure provides insights into the criterion against which to assess options. What do we get from organizational structures, other than the lack of chaos? What are the important issues to consider and benefits sought?

Roles/Responsibilities - Structure provides definition for the roles and responsibilities grouped together for a common business purpose. The aggregation of their collective efforts and results provide the basis for measuring business outcomes.

  • Does the structure provide a clear picture of respective roles and align or integrate, to the extent possible, inter dependant functions?
  • Is there a straight path in the assignment of work and the flow of results?

Service - The structure of the organization can dictate the points of entry which clients, partners or stakeholders have to use to access services.

  • Does the structure make sense when viewed from the outside - in?
  • Is there clear and easy access to services?

Economy - Cost is an important consideration to organization design, notably where there is a scarcity of resources or expertise.

  • Is the structure the least expensive delivery model?
  • Have all economies of scale been realized?
  • Does the structure avoid the duplication of expertise? resources? support systems?

Accountability - Public services require particular attention to issues of accountability and ensuring there is clarity around "value for taxpayers money." Ownership and control need to be balanced with size and scope.

  • Does the structure allow for the measurement of results? (from outputs to outcomes and impacts)
  • Do reporting relationships make sense in terms of competencies and spans of control?

Communication - Organization structure influences the nature, extent and effort required to communicate, within a given design and to those outside the immediate circle.

  • What 'natural' communication channels are established by the structure - upwards, downwards and laterally?
  • What other systemic communication mechanisms need to exist (be created) to cross organizational lines?

Culture - If one were building a completely new organization, structure would play an important role in influencing (and some might say establishing) organizational culture. There are even more issues of cultural impact when adding new functions to an existing structure.

  • How do existing staff view the new structure and its impact on them?
  • What opportunities or constraints does the structure impose on staff development?
  • Has appropriate stature been provided, relative to comparable elements of the organization?

These components can compliment or compete with one another when assessing the strengths and weaknesses of optional organization designs. The relative weight given to any one identified strength or weakness will be importantly influenced by how the organization sees itself, especially when grafting new responsibilities onto an existing structure. It is not an absolute process. A variety of structures can have merit and could work. The over riding key to selecting the 'right' choice will be the commitment (and buy-in) of the existing staff and management.

These elements of organizational design provide a lens or criteria against which the organization of the recordkeeping initiative was explored.

Key Observations

This project explored the issue of organizational design through inquiries with key informants associated with the initiative. Appendix A provides copies of the interview guides used to conduct the inquiries, which were framed around the design elements or criteria cited above.

Some key observations are made here, from the information collected. Of note, this undertaking was not exhaustive and these are tentative or preliminary observations, at best. However, the information available to this project, at this time, leads to more questions than to definitive, proposed action.

Roles and responsibilities for recordkeeping are not yet well understood, nor well differentiated from information management responsibilities (at least those envisioned for IM going forward). At this visionary stage, the roles and responsibilities are transitory and coupled with change management needs as much as with information resource expertise.

While it was known at the outset that recordkeeping is, at the moment, a moving target - this became increasingly prohibitive to exploring organizational design issues. Basic terminology or language varies significantly between sources, who themselves at times shifted in their use of the term recordkeeping during the course of discussions. In some cases, 'recordkeeping' was used:

  • as the umbrella or strategic term for overall information management and IT, as it now exists.
  • to mean the front line function (classification, storage and retrieval), a subset or falling within the higher level term of Information Management.
  • as a term for the future of Information Management, what it needs to evolve into, including the high level, strategic aspects of "being enablers versus doers" to view and manage records as corporate resources and assets.

The last version is the vision that the authors and initiators of the recordkeeping initiative see. However, the confusion speaks to more than just semantics or clarity of language. It indicates a lack of universal understanding of the actual vision and, at a more basic level, of the problems or issues driving the need for this new vision.

The recordkeeping regime is not a specific role or position, but a concept that embeds information as a valued resource within government operations. The vision is to identify information along side human, financial and physical resources as one of the pillars or critical elements to run a successful enterprise or program. Just as one would identify the human resources (competencies and numbers) needed to successfully deliver services, information resources would be similarly linked to business needs - from inception to destruction/preservation.

Recordkeeping, in this way, is both a function of specialist expertise and embedded in the roles and responsibilities of all those developing and delivering programs and services. There is a need to instil a recordkeeping discipline and culture pervasively throughout government, a significant change management challenge.

This vision is not yet realized in formal, accepted business frameworks. The Policy Framework for Information and Technology2 provides definitions, as follows:

Information management (gestion de l'information): A discipline that directs and supports effective and efficient management of information in an organization, from planning and systems development to disposal or long-term preservation.

Information technology (technologie de l'information): Includes any equipment or system that is used in the automatic acquisition, storage, manipulation, management, movement, control, display, switching, interchange, transmission, or reception of data or information. It includes all matters concerned with the design, development, installation, and implementation of information systems and applications to meet business requirements.

This policy framework provides strategic parameters for government-wide polices on IM and on IT, and accompanying Directives. Excerpts from these have been complied in Appendix B, as they related to defining roles and responsibilities. Importantly, one sees reference to recordkeeping at the ADM level of responsibility (in the policy), but it is not mirrored in the ADM-designated lead for IM (outlined in the directive). Currently, there is work ongoing to develop a Directive, specifically related to recordkeeping.

Viewed another way, one might compare and contrast how the IM community currently sees itself, how this varies from the recordkeeping vision and how it might be incorporated:

IM3 Recordkeeping
Members of the Information Management (IM) community are specialists dedicated to enhancing decision-making value and information use. Members of the Information Management (IM) community are specialists dedicated to ensuring efficient and effective information resources for GoC business success.
As stewards of government information assets, we safeguard and ensure their quality, security and integrity in our democratic society. As stewards of government information resource assets, we safeguard and ensure their business relevance, security and integrity in our democratic society.
Our abiding commitment is to make information available that serves to illuminate the past, inform the present and shape the future of Canada. Our abiding commitment is to ensure information resources serve to illuminate the past, inform the present and shape the future of Canada.
Occupying a diverse and broad range of positions and classifications across the GC, IM specialists and advisors provide guidance, support and services to program and staff functions on all aspects of managing information resources and assets-from planning and systems development to disposal and long-term preservation. Occupying a diverse and broad range of positions and classifications across the GC, IM specialists and advisors provide guidance, support and services to program and staff functions on all aspects of information resource management - from inception to disposal and long-term preservation.

The recordkeeping regime articulates the need for a documentation standard, a pivotal piece to link records (in all mediums) to business needs. The development of standards will be a multi disciplinary effort - requiring recordkeeping expertise along side business expertise. The size and complexity of the organization, its business and important other cross cutting considerations (such as security, litigation, risk) will drive the magnitude and complexity of this effort - both at inception and in terms of ongoing maintenance.

However, there is no precise level of effort yet defined for the development or maintenance of this critical element. Pilots or early adopters are underway in three organizations, but still at an early stage of implementation. And, the documentation standard is but one aspect of the vision.

There will be a need to educate and champion this change process, a business need demanding transitory structure at most. The specific roles and responsibilities of moving from the current to the desired state require expertise and competencies in of themselves.

As the vision gains clarity, formality and acceptance (both in and outside the IM community) the need for dedicated recordkeeping resources will change. This may be a reduced need, as the function is embedded in the conduct of 'regular business' and it may be an increase, as the function is of recognized importance and demand for specialized, consultative support rises.

The extent to which an organization itself fosters change will also impact the demand for this service. Once recordkeeping is tied closely with new business development (and integrated in the machinery of government such as Memorandums to Cabinet, etc), one can envision the requirement for recordkeeping specialists to run parallel to or outstrip other resource support functions - such as human and financial. Imagining or forecasting a 'steady state' operation is just not realistic at this stage of development.

Service issues include creating points of entry and looking at structure from the outside in - does it make sense? In this regard, there is common agreement on who is the client (all department personnel), and less on the need to integrate 'recordkeeping thinking' into all existing positions' responsibilities and what that may entail.

There seems to be agreement that there is a need to shift focus, "from the records to the clients," and that the clients of recordkeeping (and IM) are all staff and Management within an organization. There is an increased emphasis on 'advisory' services needed by program personnel as they develop new programs, project and initiatives and need advice on how to best integrate - up front the creation and then management of resultant records. This view seems widely understood and agreed upon.

The integration of a recordkeeping discipline into staff and management roles (as a process of change or evolution of IM) is less well understood and articulated throughout this study. However, there is an understanding that the management of information as an important resource is designed at its root to provide more accountable and efficiently transparent government services.

Information in this study pointed to the creation of recordkeeping functions attached to program units, a potentially expensive approach. Optionally, it could operate as centralized source of expertise, with proactive outreach into the Department and easily accessed by programs.

There was also a need expressed for the recordkeeping function to serve Senior Management (as the primary client) to ensure Departmental accountability and improve the Executive's access to business intelligence. In this regard, the recordkeeping function is envisioned to ensure compliance/adherence to the documentation standard - an audit related role, with Executive as the client. Design needs to accommodate these diverse clienteles.

Economical delivery models maximize economies of scale and avoid duplication of costly resources, where possible. This is an important issue to recordkeeping where, in view of the new-ness of the role, there may be a scarcity of available resources. There may be a need to grow the role and function through consolidated or centralized approaches, which through time give way to a more embedded model.

The recordkeeping function is really a new mix of competencies. It combines business analysis, mapping and architecture (at strategic and programmatic levels) with some traditional information/records (and archival) management skills and knowledge, then adds a dash of evaluation and audit. These competencies are then situated within both a consultative and inspection context, and in a very new (potentially resistant) and murky environment.

It is not yet known the extent to which this new 'competency mix' will be available in the market. Replicating these resources may prove difficult as they do not arise from one natural, existing feeder group. If they are difficult to hire or develop, the structure may need to accommodate this, and evolve as the resource base grows.

If a centralized source of expertise is employed as a result of a scarcity of resources (even in the short term), it can be viewed from two perspectives. Centralized for the 'whole of Government' (as with central agency approaches) or centralized within a Department. In either case, the issue of access is paramount. There needs to be, in order for this function to succeed, a high level of understanding the business, trusting relationship with clients and responsive services.

Accountability - Within the current IM/IT framework, it is difficult to envision this function not within the accountabilities of the CIO. The duality of program implementer (of the recordkeeping 'program') and auditor/evaluator is problematic.

Any structure will need to allow for the measurement of results and clear accountability for recordkeeping outcomes. The Policy Framework for Information and Technology and policy excerpts referenced earlier provides some, albeit not full recognition of the recordkeeping role within the overall purview of IM /IT - the CIO.

This study also sought views on what to measure - 'how would you know you were being successful providing recordkeeping services?' Some suggestions included:

  • Timeliness of access / retrieval
  • Comprehensiveness of access (what is accessible)
  • Standards are in place
  • Well defined and followed schedule
  • Search capability across mediums that allow easy access to all records
  • Records destroyed when supposed to be
  • Evidence readily available, including across departments
  • Lower cost of IM
  • IT investments aligned & streamlined
  • Increase number of files in institution/corporate management systems (increased rate of capture from desktop to corporate records systems)
  • Reduction in warehoused document volumes
  • Business client trust and satisfaction
  • Awareness department wide of good recordkeeping practices
  • Programs are successful means recordkeeping is successful
  • Better decision-making
  • Decisions are captured
  • ISO standard for Management includes people, $$ and information
  • Increased requests for recordkeeping advice in program design
  • Access to and control over records that have business value
  • Decreased time to respond to ATIP inquiries

Accountability issues also come into play in the dual role as service provider and 'auditor/evaluator' envisioned for his role. The recordkeeping role is required to develop, advise on implementation and monitor adherence to a new vehicle - the documentation standard. Defined as "...codifications of recordkeeping strategy, methodology, process and procedure determined and established by government institutions to support decision-making and assure the continuing presence and adequate documentary evidence for business activity over time4." This is a critical element in the paradigm shift from information management to information resource management.

While monitoring falls well within the role of any manager of a program, true audit and evaluation, by definition require independence from the program to be transparent, credible and true accountability mechanisms.

Communications are essential to embedding recordkeeping in organizations. The structure needs to facilitate (and not impede) the flow of information. Information critical to recordkeeping would include strategic and operational information/intelligence from the business of the department, as well as IM and IT. The strategic components of recordkeeping need to be closely tied to the business and the operational components of recordkeeping are inextricably linked to IM and IT support (as it now exists).

The link between IM and IT link is critical and already embedded in most organizations. Extensive work has been undertaken by the IM Community to design generic organizational structures (which reinforces this bond), and these have received some agreement across different IT shops. The basis used in designing these generic organization structures is notably similar to that underlying this exploration on recordkeeping. Going outside that approach would cause confusion and concern.

However, recordkeeping is envisioned to be a much more strategic and proactive role. In its infancy, it will need to be closely tied to the organization's most senior planning network, aligning the new documentation standards to existing management tools like the PAA and the MRRS. As this plays out, it requires close interaction throughout the Department and notably at those points of new business development. There is a need to position the function in such a way as to have an appropriate 'stature' to gain entry to and full participation in key business discussions. This is its strategic need.

Operationally, the function needs to be close enough to the day-to-day business to have a good understanding of ongoing information resource needs and support the programs in meeting these.

And finally, this is a new function. There will be a need for a community of practice to be established, with systematic sharing of best practices and expertise - across traditional government department lines.

Cultural impacts are particularly significant. This is in large part a change management initiative, involving a change in thinking about records both within and outside of IM shops in Departments. The issue is how to maximize effect in both directions.

The structure or design for recordkeeping needs to be advantageous (or at minimum not constraining) to existing roles. On the IM side, there are those who see this as an opportunity to elevate the IM role, which might ultimately add career path opportunities. Divorcing recordkeeping from IM creates competition and threats. Others seek, through this initiative to create a new stature for this work, one which is valued as one of the key resource management elements (along with human and financial asset management).

Regardless of structure, there is a need for strong senior management support for an initiative of this magnitude. Enlisting, and capitalizing on the critical role of, the some 100+ CIO's will be important as the recordkeeping role is rolled out to Departments. It will be equally important to ensure central agencies (notably TBS and LAC) are both supportive and synchronized for success.

Conclusions

It is important to reiterate that this was not an exhaustive study, in terms of the information and intelligence collected. It was not possible within the scope of this project and the timing or stage of development for the overall initiative to propose specific organizational design options. The report does provide tentative or preliminary observations and is designed to further the discussion on positioning recordkeeping within the GoC.

There are a number of lessons to be gleaned and some ideas or notions to consider:

  • Organizational design is at this stage needs to focus on how it may facilitate or advance the change management challenge facing the initiative. As such a transitory or project-based approach may be the most effective approach.
  • Positioning the function with direct links to senior management will increase its effectiveness, likelihood of success and ability to influence the required transformation.
  • There is also a need to have the function close to program delivery staff and management, to assist and advise on the information resource side of their service and program delivery.
  • With the newness of the role, support should be provided from a centralized source to ensure consistency and quality of recordkeeping results. This may be a structural dimension, or simply a systematic one.
  • The initiative could augment its reach and impact through capitalizing on existing roles (CIO, IM, IT) as the parameters of recordkeeping are defined and rolled out.
  • There is an inherent conflict in combining service deliverer and audit / evaluation roles in the same function. Existing audit and evaluation regimes may be well situated to support the initiative and in doing so, over time promote and advance recordkeeping.
  • More information will become available as the 'pilots' continue to develop and then implement their documentation standards. The recordkeeping function and specifically the nature and extent of needed positions will gain greater clarity and this will be very informative for deciding on ultimate structural issues.

1 Deputy Minister Roundtables on Information Management and Recordkeeping convened in the Fall of 2006. Source: The Recordkeeping Regime: Overcoming Recordkeeping Challenges in the Public Service.

2 Retrieved March 2008 from: www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/pubs_pol/ciopubs/TB_IT/pfit-csit01_e.asp#pfit-csit4

3 IM Community Development Office website, www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/oro-bgc/im/im-eng.asp; retrieved March 2008. Emphasis (bolding) was done by this author.

4 Draft 2 of "Creating Documentation Standards for Government Programs, Services and Results: A development Framework and Guide for Business Managers and Information Resource Specialists." Corporate Management and Government Records Sector, Library and Archives Canada, 2008.

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