This is the third post of a multi-part recap of the 2014 e-Records Conference. Presentation materials from the e-Records Conference are coming soon to the e-Records 2014 website.
By Erica Wilson, Government Information Analyst
As we all know, electronic records require thorough and descriptive metadata in order to be findable and usable. When implementing an enterprise-wide electronic records management system, it is important to collaborate with your stakeholders in order to agree upon some metadata standards and definitions to that there is consistency in how records are maintained. Jessica Higgins and Katherine Cranford from the City of Austin know this better than most, as they have been working with key stakeholder groups across their organization as they begin to institute an electronic records management system to standardize records management practices, retention requirements, and destruction procedures. They shared some of the challenges encountered and the valuable lessons learned with our audience, which will be time-saving and helpful as more people move towards utilizing electronic records management systems.
As with many records management projects, to get people on board, you have to talk about what is in it for them. Collaborative, standardized metadata has many benefits: it increases record sharing while decreasing duplicate copies of records, increases transparency and access while promoting consistency, and teaches and reinforces records management concepts among populations that may not always be aware of them. Of course, there are challenges to implementation, just as there are with many records management projects. Many are the same that are encountered during any project involving change with information governance: communication issues within the organizational structure; fear of change; time, staffing, and budget constraints; lack of information governance; uncontrolled information growth; and seemingly low incentives. And then, there are the special challenges we face as government employees: older technology, more business functions and more records, and our old friend, bureaucratic red tape.
So how do you overcome these challenges to get people on board? Well, as with other projects, like cleaning up a shared drive, you have to start at the top and engage your stakeholders throughout the organization. First, provide visuals and examples of successful projects. This gives users a base level of expectation for the project. Again, you’ll need to articulate the incentives, so that users will know what benefits they can expect from their work. Challenge the fears and assumptions made by providing real information and examples of how the changes will impact their work. Also, start small – maybe in your own department or a department that you are friendly with; they can help you identify problems with the process and build momentum. Build time for feedback and different iterations into the project timeline, so that you can address issues and make the project go more smoothly for other departments. When talking to your stakeholders, know your audience – perhaps you will need to use different language or adjust the incentives. Finally, engage with passionate people, both supporters and detractors. They will know about the data and be able to provide you with more information as you move forward.
To identify what metadata to capture and use, first conduct interviews with your stakeholders. Find out how workflows and business processes currently work – how are people searching for things? What is essential to capture? Make sure to define the scope of the project, so that it doesn’t keep expanding and define the user groups, so that you will know who will need access to the information. These interviews should start to give you an idea of how the metadata fields will need to be displayed – would a drop-down menu work best? Free text? Check box? Radio button? The less data entry that needs to be done, the more you can minimize the opportunities for errors. There are numerous metadata standards available, such as NAICS, Dublin Core, MARC, PREMIS, ANSI/NISO, and EAD. You should select as close to an out-of-the-box solution as you can. However, if no standard meets your needs, you might consider implementing a custom metadata scheme.
There are definite advantages to creating custom metadata. More precise and specific terms are used, which means less guessing on the part of the user. Users will be familiar with the terminology or categories, and thus, the tags are easier for them to apply. More customization makes detailed reporting possible, and you can directly address user needs. However, there are drawbacks as well. If the metadata is too precise or specific, it can be too much to index or could lead to only a few records attached to each group. Custom metadata requires extra effort to develop and maintain, especially when terms change or when upgrades happen. And, as always, you will not be able to please everyone.
After coming to a consensus, review the proposed workflow with the group. Create a mockup of what the metadata will look like and adjust it after receiving feedback. After deciding on the metadata, create procedures and designate conventions by defining terms clearly. Of course, you will have to plan for expansion and growth, so make a plan to minimize data entry (drop-down lists, check boxes, etc.) and create templates to help users. After implementation, you will need to perform maintenance to ensure that your system continues to work. You will need to train users to work with the new system and check in with them periodically to make modifications as needed. The process should be built into day-to-day procedures and quality control checks should be performed to make sure that metadata is correct and used properly. After successfully implementing with one group, you can identify expansion projects that can build upon the work you’ve already done.
Implementing an electronic records management system can be a daunting task, especially if you’ve never created metadata or lack consistency in how departments tag records. But if you invest time in talking to stakeholders and work to come to a consensus, you can create enterprise-wide metadata that enhances and simplifies your workflows.