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Transparency: Still a Motivating Factor for Records Management

Transparency is sometimes overlooked as a chief factor in records management, yet it is a critical and necessary ingredient in any effective records management program.

The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) stresses the importance of transparency. Laurence Brewer, the NARA’s Chief Records Officer, has said, “Our goal … is trying to get to a place where records management is transparent to the user. Brewer is “looking to issue more guidance around emerging technologies and collaboration coming out of the pandemic.”

Not all records are public, but the transparency we’re discussing here isn’t about making documents available to anyone who wants them (although public records requests are critical for transparency.) Instead, it’s about ensuring insight, visibility, and control over records. Transparency requires records management systems and technologies that control records and, by extension, their content and other information resources from creation through their disposition.

Operationally, a transparent records management process is one in which it’s clear (or easily discoverable) how records are handled and by whom. Records are findable, and one can track how those records are being used, accessed, and altered. Transparency means logging into your records management system and finding almost any information about the record and its history.

With that kind of transparency in place, users can:

  • Understand how records are used. Figure out if your records management processes are working or, if there are failures, identify where those problems occur. Regarding physical files, transparency can help organizations locate the records anywhere they travel.

  • Understand if you need to improve. If there are problems or gaps, a transparent system will ensure users detect them before they fester and become a crisis. For instance, if files have been accessed or modified inappropriately, a clear record history can tell you who handled the record, when, and where. Also, audit tools should be included in your records management system.

  • Increase audibility and compliance. Transparency enables agencies to know the state of their records at any time and to gauge their audit readiness. If they know they have problem areas, they can correct any compliance issues before they become violations.

  • Error reduction. The aforementioned research looked at the relationship between transparency and records management and found that greater transparency can minimize data loss, inaccuracies, improper access or modification of files, compliance violations and even help prevent the concealment of governmental corruption.

  • Foster the implementation of Trusted Systems and trust those systems. Trusted systems are systems that users feel safe using. They are systems that users trust to perform tasks without executing harmful or unauthorized programs.

Trustworthiness is itself a foundational pillar of successful records management. The agency's ability to perform its mission ensures the support of the public, its clients, and their stakeholders, which depends on trust and transparency in their work.




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