Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Fixing Electronic Record Keeping in the Australian Government

Ross Gibbs, Director General of the National Archives of AustraliaThis morning Ross Gibbs, Director General of the National Archives of Australia launched the course "Systems Approach to Management of Government Information". He said a Management Advisory Committee (MAC) report on study on recordkeeping in the Australian Public Service (APS) will be released "in the very near future". The courses are intended to address the government requirements which will be detailed in the MAC report.

The DG said:
"The clever part of this course will be having people who understand these systems and can create reliable electronic evidence of government processes".
The need for better record keeping has been identified in several Australian National Audit Office reports and by the Australian Public Service Commission's State of the Service Report.

The DG also mentioned Xena, NAA's open source e-document software and their prototype electronic archive. NAA is working on open file formats to be used for long term electronic storage in the archive. It will make their job easier if agencies use open formats and standard metadata to create their documents, so they are easily maintained and transferred to the archive.

I am teaching the ANU units on "Information Architecture for E-Documents" and "Electronic Document Management". As with other units these are adapted from existing university courses, but with an emphasis on practical application to the Australian Government. My bit is not hard to adapt as I already reference the electronic copies of the Government's guidelines and standards. I have been looking at how much of the course should be online and how this would be done. Rather than produce a completely online course, where the students never see anyone, or conventional classroom lectures, it should be possible to blend the best of both approaches.

The launch was at the historic "West Block" behind Old Parliament House, in the same room where the "Advances in Digital Preservation International Working Meeting" was held in2005. That was a memorable occasion as NAA trumped their UK and US colleagues: rather than talk about how e-archiving might be done in the future, they handed out CR-ROMS with free open source software to actually do it.

1 comment:

David T. Bath said...

From what I've seen, regardless of storage formats, the problem is authors of documents not maintaining the metadata (e.g. File>Properties in common tools such as Microsoft Office), and worse, cloning documents (perhaps because it has a nifty template) so misleading metadata exists.

A five-paragraph memo to all agency staff telling them what to fill in (or clear) when saving a document would lead to great improvements.

Even if people merely cleared out misleading metadata, harvesters (such as National Library of New Zealand's metadata extraction tool) could be put to good use.

Thankfully AGIMO got created in DOFA when NOIE was dissolved from DCITA. (The National Office of the Information Economy had approximately zero conformance to the minimum website standards of the day for accessibility and archiving).

For example: see the complete lack of metadata in the combined NOIE / Australian Computer Society PDF guide to Credit Card Fraud .

Interestingly, senate inquiries have recently started putting metadata into the PDF's for submissions they publish, but unfortunately, removing metadata (such as author names) that DID exist, and all submissions have the same title/author/description) - this appears to have happened sometime between the Content Services 2007 and Citizenship Testing 2007 bills.