Records management

What are illustrative commitments

Illustrative Commitments

  • Introduction

    Managing official records as a basis for accountability and transparency is a systemic issue rather than an issue relating to any particular type of records.  A reliable and accessible evidence base is vital for all aspects of open government, particularly the right to information and open data, which are dependent upon the ability to access reliable records.  Records management will not in itself achieve openness, but without it, openness is not possible.

    Every public sector policy maker, auditor, court official and fraud investigator knows the importance of being able to find, use and trust official records as evidence of policies, actions, transactions, expenditure, precedents, rights and entitlements.  Most citizens know how important it is to have proof of their rights, for instance land rights or rights in court.  And yet, in many countries, public sector records are difficult to locate and to trust.

    Records, as defined in international standards, are any ‘information created, received, and maintained as evidence and as an asset by an organization or person, in pursuit of legal obligations or in the transaction of business.  They may be in any medium, form, or format’ (ISO, 2011). It is increasingly important to link together all of the official information required as records, whether it is entered directly in a database, maintained as a digital record or kept on a paper file.

    Well-managed records provide clear and durable evidence of what the government has promised, what it has done, what services it has provided and how it has spent public funds. Weak records controls result in an ad hoc, potentially misleading national evidence base that opens opportunities for manipulation, corruption and fraud; weakens citizens’ ability to claim fair rights and entitlements; undermines the ability to plan and monitor policies and services; and makes it difficult to open information effectively.  The quality of the records, especially new forms of digital records, depends on the strength of the control regime, including laws, policies, practices, structures, and skills as developed through international professional collaboration and defined in international records management standards.

    As digital information systems replace paper-based systems, it is essential that records in digital form are capable of providing the evidence upon which governments and citizens depend. Unfortunately, digital records created and held in ICT systems are highly vulnerable, and unless protected, their value as evidence diminishes rapidly from the point that they are created. In particular, if computerised systems do not systematically capture structured metadata (data describing the context, content, structure and management of the records) the information will lack legal value, simply because it will not be possible to demonstrate that it is authentic and reliable.  It also is fundamental that digital records and their metadata should be transferred as early as possible to specialised preservation facilities for safe and secure storage through time and technological change.

    Records management principles also support data management. Data are often extracted or aggregated from records, for instance from land records, personnel records or hospital records.  Inaccurate or incomplete source records result in misleading data that can reduce trust in the government.  Moreover, when data and its associated metadata is not protected and preserved systematically, it can easily be lost entirely, lose its value as evidence or hinder exchange between information systems.  As databases are used, changed and updated over a period of years, especially when several authorities maintain them jointly, it is essential to document the context of how they are created and altered to support future sharing, access and long-term management.  Records management have been developed internationally to support systematic control through time.

    While many countries are still operating in a paper-based environment, the move toward digital governance is a reality worldwide.  Many governments do not yet realise that digital records and data must be managed consistently if they are to provide a basis for openness. Even as it remains essential to build sound systems for managing paper records, all countries need to begin to invest in digital records management.

    In developing records management commitments, countries should clearly state how records management will serve to make government more open.  Introducing a records control regime or upgrading systems to streamline procedures without actually making information available to the public does not make governments more open.

    A recent study released by the World Bank illustrates both the opportunities and the challenges of managing records for openness in a digital environment in three countries, Estonia, Finland and Norway:

    Other related topics include Right to Information, Open Government Data, Citizen Engagement  and Privacy and Data Protection


    • ISO 30300:2011:  Information and Documentation - Management Systems for Records - Fundamentals and Vocabulary,
    • Principle International Records and Information Standards,
  • Expert Organisations


    This topic has been developed by the staff and Associates of the International Records Management Trust with contributions from members of the International Council on Archives, and the Association of Commonwealth Archivists and Records Managers.

  • Standards &
  • Examples in Practice

    A growing number of universities across the world are offering records management education in the context of information science and digital governance

    See for instance:

    Canada’s policy on information management takes a broad approach to managing information in all forms and formats

    The policy recognises that information is an essential component of effective public service management across all departments. High-quality, authoritative information supports the delivery of effective programs and services and enables departments to be responsive and accountable to Canadians. The information management policy encompasses the management of records, documents of all types, data, library services and information architecture. Integrating information management considerations into all aspects of government business makes it possible for information to be used and recognized as a valuable asset; integrating information management requirements with technology planning ensures that digital information is accessible, shareable, and usable over time and through technological change.

    All employees are responsible for applying information management principles, standards, and practices as expressed in Treasury Board of Canada and departmental frameworks, policies, directives, and guidelines in the performance of their duties, and for documenting their activities and decisions. Expert services such as records, library, and data management provide specialized information management support to departments.

    The Government also recognises the public’s right to access to information in records under the control of government institutions as an essential element of its system of democracy. It is committed to openness and transparency by respecting the spirit and requirements of the Access to Information Act. The government must ensure a high standard of care for records under its control. Sound information management plays a key role in facilitating the ability to exercise the right of access under the Act.

    Finland is reviewing its law and practices for managing records and data in relation to its goals for openness, public service management and digital governance

    Finland views information management as an integral aspect of its approach to maximizing the opportunities for strengthening digital governance and enhancing openness, and it recognises the need to modernise its control regime.  It is in the process of analysing its laws and practices for managing records and data in relation to its goals for customer-oriented public services, good IT governance, interoperable processes and services, reuse of public sector information, and data security. Its aim is to facilitate evidence-based cross-organizational service provision.

    The analysis will provide the basis for a new act that will cover the entire lifecycle or continuum of information. Initially, the focus was on revising the Archives Act, but it has become clear that a new act is needed to introduce a coordinated approach to information management in relation to goals for openness and digital governance. The aim now is to harmonize the different laws and regulations for information management, digital governance and access rights. The new law will provide a basis for harmonizing relevant standards, for instance those for interoperability and security and for records and data management.

    Finland’s Archives Act has wide coverage across the public sector and facilitates the right of individuals and institutions to access public information

    The Act specifies the duties of the National Archives as a government body under the Ministry of Education. It defines a record as a written or pictorial presentation that can be read, heard, or otherwise understood with the aid of technical equipment; it defines an archive as records received or produced by a records creator in the performance of its duties. The Act has wide coverage, including government offices at the national and municipal levels; courts of law and institutions applying the law; government and municipal enterprises; and collective bodies, organs, and persons carryings out public duties. The bodies covered include, for instance, the Bank of Finland, the Social Insurance Institute, some universities, and the Greek Orthodox Church of Finland and its congregations. The Act makes record creating agencies responsible for organising the practical aspects of records and archives management in relation to specific rules and regulations.

    The Archives Law supports the right of private individuals and institutions to obtain information from records open to public inspection, provided that the legal rights and privacy are protected. The National Archives responsibilities are specified in closer detail in a Decree on the National Archives Service.

    In Finland the National Archives has been developing methods of preserving information in databases

    In 2012, in response to a growing demand for solutions to preserving information in databases, the National Archives began developing techniques, tools, methods, and practices for ensuring and protecting the authenticity, integrity, and usability of information in databases and registers.  It began by studying relevant international standards and good practices, with particular attention to the Swiss Federal Archives’ SIARD-standard (Software Independent Archiving of Relational Databases and  the  Norwegian Archival Service’s standard for technical metadata, ADDML (Archival Data Description Markup Language). Finland’s National Archives is cooperating with the Norwegian and Swedish National Archives to continue developing the ADDML standard.

    In the Latin American region, the Network of Transparency and Access to Information (RTA) has developed a model document management and records management system

    The RTA, created in 2011, is made up of 13 countries and one international foundation. It enables dialogue and cooperation among its members aimed at promoting the exchange of knowledge and experiences in the area of transparency and access to information. This work has included developing a Model Document Management and Records Management System.  The RTA received support for this work from EUROSocial, a European Union assistance programme, based on recognition of the significance of information access, transparency and accountability as key elements in the construction of modern democracies.

    The Model was developed through a series of regional workshops, with input from the General Department of State Archives of Spain and the collaboration of the Organisation of American States.  The main objective of the project was to establish the characteristics and attributes of a regional model of document management and file management by considering successful experiences internationally in order to support the implementation of transparency and access to information laws.  The Model takes account of the diversity of national and regional records management policies and includes implementation guidelines.  It serves as as a reference for countries seeking to create an effective records management system. Countries in the region collaborate with the RTA in implementing the Model.  For instance, in Uruguay, the system is driven by the RTA’s Executive Secretariat with the cooperation of Uruguay’s General Archives of the Nation.

    In the UK the Information Commissioner and the National Archives have developed a code of practice on records management to support the Freedom of Information Act

    The code of practice on records management was developed as a supplement to the provisions stated in the UK’s Freedom of Information Act of 2000. Its purpose is to help public sector authorities comply with the freedom of information requirements relating to the creation, management, disposal, use and re-use of records and information.  The Code defines the roles of the Information Commissioner, the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Council on Public Records and the National Archives.

    The Information Commissioner’s Office has developed a set of training materials for use in the public sector, including short films on how to manage personal information, and how to comply with the UK Data Protection Act, Freedom of Information Act.

    India has developed a Centre of Excellence for Digital Preservation

    The Government recognises the threats posed by rapidly changing technologies and digital obsolescence of computer hardware, software, file formats and storage media.  These include the possibilities of data corruption, physical damage and disasters for digitally encoded information, as well as the obsolescence of digital content, e-records and evidentiary proof, all of which can lead to problems in administrative, judiciary and legislative functions.  The Department of Electronics and Information has supported the need to develop trusted digital repositories supported by tools, technologies, standards, good practices and policy for long-term preservation and access.  It has taken early steps towards envisaging a National Digital Preservation Program, including preparing a National Study Report on Digital Preservation Requirements of India and setting-up a Centre of Excellence for Digital Preservation.

    Malaysia has developed a set of system specifications for electronic records management systems

    The National Archives of Malaysia adapted and incorporated the recommendations from Module 2 of the International Council on Archives Functional Requirements into the System Specification developed in 2003.  The National Archives of Malaysia further updated its System Specification in 2011.

    Norway has developed a digital repository system that meets the highest level of international good practice

    In 2009, the National Archives launched a project to develop a digital repository system that would meet the highest level of international good practice based on the principles of international IT security and appropriate elements of the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) and the Trusted Repository Audit and Certification Checklist. The aim was to secure contextual authenticity, making it possible to demonstrate that what is stored in the repository has the same structure and relationships as that produced in the creating agencies.  At the beginning of 2014, the Archives launched an open source Trusted Digital Repository system, developed by a Swedish supplier and adapted for national and municipal use in Norway. This provides a technology-neutral means of preserving public sector records using standardized digital preservation models.  The system also is implemented in the National Archives of Sweden.

    Norway was the first government in the world to introduce standardised metadata requirements, and this has enabled a highly successful approach to freedom of information

    In the 1980s, the National Archives of Norway recognized the importance of managing digital records as evidence and began to define good practice requirements for digital records systems. First introduced in 1984, the Norwegian Model Requirements for Electronic Records Management Systems (Noark) have evolved to structure the way government agencies capture, protect and provide access to official records in digital form.

    As was the case in many European countries, public sector records in Norway had long been managed through registry systems that captured metadata about incoming and outgoing correspondence and gave the records their legal authority. Once registered, records could not be altered without authorisation and evidence of change. From the outset, the Noark Standard used the concept of metadata management, which was already established in Norwegian law, as the foundation for building information integrity. Noark mirrored principles defined in the Norwegian Governance Act (1967) and the Norwegian Freedom of Information Act (1970), which together defined a set of core metadata elements (date of registration, record number, sender/ recipient information, description of content or subject, document date, classification code, date, and method of processing). The requirement for mandatory metadata has continued with each successive version of Noark.

    Norway’s revised Freedom of Information Act of 2006, implemented in 2009, took access to information to a new level. Rooted in a commitment to protect transparency and citizens’ rights through access to public sector information, the law required government agencies to upload, daily, standardized metadata, as defined in Noark for incoming and outgoing documents to an electronic records registry. This evolved into a searchable database that gives Norway’s citizens a degree of access to reliable information that is unparalleled anywhere in the world.

    Scotland has developed a data strategy for public sector information governed by a ‘data linkage framework’

    The framework requires government departments and agencies to acknowledge the importance of data quality in facilitating the use of data and maximising its value.  The aim is to strengthen data, for instance in terms of accuracy and the level of disaggregation required. Operating within this framework, the Data Sharing and Linkage Service is being delivered through collaboration between NHS National Services Scotland and National Records of Scotland.  At the same time, The Public Records Act (Scotland) (2011) requires senior government executives to set out proper arrangements for managing the information it creates, including records and data. The Keeper of the National Records of Scotland must be provided with evidence of the policies and processes that they are implementing, including the data that they generate.  This includes, for instance, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency’s environmental impact assessment datasets and the management of Big Data compiled and managed by the National Records of Scotland.

    Sierra Leone is rebuilding its records control regime after a long period of internal conflict

    In Sierra Leone, records controls deteriorated over recent decades, and the situation was compounded by a period of internal conflict between 1991 and 2002.  When peace was restored, chronic records management problems affected every public sector agency.   Many essential records had been lost or corrupted, particularly in relation to personnel information where there was a widespread practice of altering records or removing them from files to gain employment benefits.

    The Government recognised the impact of the loss of control of public sector records in relation to the efficiency of government operations, accountability and transparency, and economic development.  Senior government stakeholders realised that the control regime had to be almost entirely rebuilt. A Record Management Improvement Project was initiated in 2005 to address these issues. A records team studied the national arrangements for managing public sector records as well as sector specific records systems across key public sector functions.  On the basis of the findings, the Government moved forward to develop a national records control regime, and at the same time it identified pay and personnel information as key to economic recovery.  A new methodology was developed for rebuilding paper-based personnel records systems and linking them to the Human Capital Accountability Module of the Integrated Financial Information Management System.

    Sweden is developing common specifications to support government agencies in transferring digital records between records management systems and a digital archive

    Sweden’s e-Archive and e-Diarium Project (eARD) originated as an initiative from the Swedish eGovernment Delegation, which identified e-archiving and e-registration of records as one of several strategic success factors for effective e-government. Based on the vision that drives the project, it should be easy to retrieve, reuse and transfer information held by public authorities to a digital archive. The aim is to ensure the necessary functionality and interoperability, both within the internal administration and between the administration and citizens and businesses.

    The project, in which the National Archives of Sweden has played a leading role, has involved developing common specifications for government agencies for transferring digital records between records management systems and a digital archive. The specifications are structured descriptions of the functional and technical requirements that meet the needs of all or part of the government administration.  They provide guidance for developing regulations and for system procurement that will facilitate searching for and retrieving information for both the government agencies and citizens. The guidelines and specifications are seen as a prerequisite for establishing inter-agency information sharing and long-term information provision. For this to be feasible, requirements for mandatory metadata capture are to be identified to meet the basic requirements of all agencies.

    The Government of Australia has adopted a digital transition policy

    The Policy was developed by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and approved in July 2011. Its purpose is to move Australian Government agencies to digital information and records management for efficiency purposes.  The National Archives is lead agency for implementation. The policy applies to all Commonwealth agencies, regardless of their legislative status. Digital information and records management is defined as meaning that the majority of agency records will be created, stored and managed digitally and, where possible, incoming paper records will be scanned so that new paper files are not created.  For many agencies, the policy means moving from paper-based records management to digital information and records management.

    In addition, the National Archives of Australia has provided a policy template as a guide on the key aspects and components to include in an agency records management policy.

    The Government of Estonia has issued a series of guidelines on minimum requirements for Estonian public sector document and records management systems, including minimum metadata standards

    Estonia’s Department of Information Society Services Development is in charge of policies for effective information society services, records management, and information governance. It links digital records management to service provision to support electronic handling and procedural processes, improve reporting, increase transparency, and safeguard and preserve information on any media as evidence. The aim is to increase citizens’ and officials’ awareness of and satisfaction with state digital services, strengthen the potential for the information society, and enhance the efficiency of state policy formulation through high-quality information and data usage.

    The Department has issued a series of guidelines for records managers in state and local government agencies and for service providers in order to facilitate user-friendly and efficient information services. The aim is to improve management and administration processes, enhance the interoperability of records management systems, and facilitate document and data exchange. The guidelines support the provisions of the Archives Act and the Public Information Act for ensuring the preservation and usability of records. They rest on international records and information management good practice standards that define requirements for managing digital records.  The Department and the National Archives have jointly prepared a standardized set of minimum metadata requirements based on an extensive study of metadata requirements in countries including the UK, Germany, Canada, and Norway.

    The Government of New Zealand has recognised the importance of managing datasets in public organisations as part of its plan for digital continuity

    New Zealand is creating digital information at a rate never seen before, but often this growth is unmanaged. The shift to the creation of information in digital formats and ICT-based business processes enables new approaches in the way business is carried out and in the way people interact with each other, with the public sector and with the commercial marketplace.  It also has also created a challenge for those tasked with managing and sustaining the resulting information. The Government recognises that public sector digital information must be proactively managed, both for delivering quality public services and for legislative and regulatory accountability. The passage of the Public Records Act in 2005, which requires public sector agencies to create and maintain full and accurate records, has brought these issues to the forefront.

    Archives New Zealand has created a Digital Continuity Action Plan to help to ensure that public sector digital information is created and managed effectively across the public sector, by agencies including government departments, crown research institutes, crown entities, state enterprises, district health boards, state and integrated schools, tertiary institutions and local government. A staged and differentiated approach is envisaged, with government departments being the first to implement the action plan. Public sector digital information covers a wide range of records and data, for instance, budgetary and benefits information, evidence on court cases, research data, sensitive personal case files, and foreign policy decisions. This information can be stored or transmitted in a range of environments, such as websites, wikis, SMS text messages, email, CDs, DVDs and USB drives, all of which must be managed.

    Datasets, like other information or corporate records created or received by a public office, can be public records under the Public Records Act of 2005 and need to be managed as part of The Digital Continuity Action Plan.

    The National Archives of Australia is supporting capacity building across the Government of Australia

    The National Archives supports capability development in the Australian government by offering a range of training programmes and resources, such as face-to-face training courses, e-learning, and professional events in such areas as effective digital governance and records management, with the aim of avoiding technological obsolescence and conquering the paper mountain. The Archives also engages with information and records professionals and stakeholders across the Australian Government, industry and the education sector.

    The Archives also offers a series of eLearning modules to help build digital information and records management knowledge and capabilities across the Australian Government.

    The National Archives of Malaysia has introduced an electronic records management and archives management policy

    The National Archives has worked with departments and agencies from across the Government to develop policies, standards and practices, technical specifications and training plans to enable the Government of Malaysia to manage records in electronic form. The Archives, within its legislative mandate to facilitate the management of records in any physical form and to acquire, facilitates the government-wide management of electronic records. In this capacity and in cooperation with other central agencies and public offices, it is responsible for issuing standards and guides to government departments on the management of electronic records.

    Public offices are required to comply with the provisions of the National Archives Act of 2003. The standards and procedures set out in the policy are designed to support public offices in meeting their obligations under the Act. This document should be used in conjunction with the Guidelines on Electronic Records Management, which the National Archives produced to help public offices manage electronic records. More specific guidelines addressing the management of electronic records in specific environments are also are available from the National Archives.

    The Swiss Federal Archives has developed a sustainable solution for archiving relational datasets

    SIARD stands for Software Independent Archiving of Relational Databases. The Swiss Federal Archives has developed SIARD as a sustainable solution for archiving relational databases. The SIARD format is based upon the most important international standards. SIARD Suite is currently being used worldwide in 54 different countries. The software can be ordered free of charge through the Swiss Federal Archives.

    As part of the ‘Open Government Data Switzerland’ project, the Swiss Federal Archives and its project partners are operating a central pilot portal providing access to open data from Swiss authorities.  The pilot portal was launched in 2013 to allow both the users and the authorities involved to gain experience of open government data.  Over the medium term, the project partners hope that free availability of open government data will increase the use of public data and thereby contribute to economic growth, greater political transparency and improved efficiency in public administration.

    The Tanzanian Records and Archives Management Act empowers the national archives to set standards for managing public records

    The law from 2002 created the Tanzanian Records and Archives Management Department, expanding the role of the National Archives to provide for the administration and management of public records from their creation through to their preservation as archives or their disposal when they no longer have value.   The Department’s role, as set out in the Act, includes ensuring that public offices follow good record keeping practices aimed at creating reliable records of their actions and transactions, maintaining the records so long as there is a continuing need for them, and ensuring that they are destroyed in an authorised and timely manner when there is no ongoing value, or that they are preserved as archives.

    After the passage of the law, the Records and Archives Management Department was transferred to the President’s Office-Public Service Management where it could play a cross-cutting role in supporting the national objective of ensuring efficient and effective public service management.

    The United Arab Emirates is working with the International Council on Archives to develop an international archives centre of excellence in Abu Dhabi

    This international initiative is being developed in the context of the numerous challenges archives and archivists around the world are facing today, including addressing the complex issues inherent in the transition to a digital society.

    The United Kingdom has produced guidance on managing the continuity of datasets

    Digital continuity involves ensuring an appropriate level of access to digital information for as long as it is needed.  This guidance is aimed at anyone managing the continuity of datasets. It forms part of a suite that The National Archives has delivered as part of a digital continuity service for government, in consultation with central government departments.

    The US Department of Justice Office of Information Policy regularly conducts training sessions on all aspects of freedom of information

    The Office of Information Policy has developed a new suite of freedom of information resources designed to train the federal workforce, at all levels, to understand their FOIA responsibilities. These resources were developed as part of the commitments in the US Second Open Government National Action Plan and the Department’s own Open Government Plan.

    The US National Archives and Records Management Administration (NARA) offers comprehensive records management instructions to federal employees and contractors

    Training is delivered at NARA facilities across the country on such topics as electronic records management and vital business information. The training programme also presents a series of online briefings that are recorded and posted on NARA’s YouTube Channel.

    The US presidential memorandum on managing government records launched an effort to reform records management policies and practices

    The executive memorandum notes that:

    • Improving the management of the record of agency decisions and actions will improve performance and promote openness and accountability.
    • Modernized records management will help executive departments and agencies minimize costs and operate more efficiently.
    • When records are well managed, agencies can use them to assess the impact of programs, to reduce redundant efforts, to save money, and to share knowledge within and across their organizations.
    • Proper records management is the backbone of open government.

    The memorandum observes that decades of technological advances have transformed agency operations, creating challenges and opportunities for agency records management.  Greater reliance on electronic communication and systems has radically increased the volume and diversity of information that agencies must manage.  With proper planning, technology can make these records less burdensome to manage and easier to use and share.  However, if records management policies and practices are not updated for a digital age, the surge in information could overwhelm agency systems, leading to higher costs and lost records.  A 21st-century framework for the management of Government records is necessary to provide a foundation for open Government, leverage information to improve agency performance, and reduce unnecessary costs and burdens.

    In response to the President’s direction, the Archivist of the US issued the Managing Government Records Directive (2012) containing a comprehensive set of policy initiatives aimed at advancing the cause of federal sector e-recordkeeping.  The primary stated goal of the Directive is to require electronic recordkeeping to ensure transparency, efficiency and accountability. To this end, the Goal goes on to state that to promote openness and accountability and reduce costs in the long term, the Federal Government should commit immediately to the transition to a digital government; by 2019, Federal agencies will manage all permanent electronic records in an electronic format.