Risk mitigation followup: positive incentives for records creation/retention

by Maarja Krusten
Good morning from Washington, DC!  In my last post here (December 23,
2017), I mentioned the challenge of finding positive incentives (beyond
legal ones) for creation and retention of records (especially ones that
shed light on complex issues) in some record keeping environments.  I'd
like to share one incentive, although I recognize its effectiveness depends
on where you work.

First, some context.  In some cases 10-15 years ago, the move to electronic
record keeping included EDMS/ERMS solutions that then depended on decisions
on record status by creators and recipients of electronic materials.  The
impact of reminding officials of all ranks that paper materials their
secretaries once filed away under lock and key now required declaration of
status in electronic form by program officials varied greatly.

This "filing" paradigm shift affected workplaces differently.  In some
environments, seeing the electronic materials on a screen and having to
decide their status while sitting at one's desk potentially heightened a
sense of perceived risks surrounding the content of records.  This made
customization of RM pitches with contextual sophistication that fit
institutional cultures even more important than in the past.  The extent to
which this occurred varied.

The greatest challenges back then lay in governmental, academic, or
corporate cultures where executives perceived reach into their written
words as potentially leading to abusive or adversarial actions that
unfairly targeted them or their institutions. Protection against that could
seem like a more powerful imperative than preserving institutional memory.

President George W. Bush voiced the perceived risks and impact eloquently
as he took office, as a reporter noted in 2001:  “'My lawyers tell me that
all correspondence by e-mail is subject to open record requests,’ Mr. Bush
wrote. . . . ‘Since I do not want my private conversations looked at by
those out to embarrass, the only course of action is not to correspond in

This highly human reaction was seen (although not always voiced publicly)
elsewhere, across party lines and in various public and private sector
entities, in a number of ways and settings, over the years, as well.

Establishing RM context holistically works best if done at the front end,
not later, as a fix, after initial acculturation has taken hold.  If your
organization is receptive to RM pitches that feature internal history and
institutional memory, consider the way this educator highlights the
existence and use of records, "Making the First Day Matter."

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) offers support to
educators interested in teaching with primary sources:
https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__www.archives.gov_education_lessons&d=DwIFaQ&c=pZJPUDQ3SB9JplYbifm4nt2lEVG5pWx2KikqINpWlZM&r=b5NZPQUb9_r2rQ3Zd74ATT3aSs9yKyRnJLOhqJvd7fE&m=T3lv8A4n-o-ay6VgblIKlI6vXFRbfRLJaHpMQDE5sVM&s=oE9HqPjOMDa-D-MFoyTCzYCrVnAV_6OwY7WNcNHZsNg&e=  .  These cover various time
periods, including that covered in our new exhibit, "Remembering Vietnam."

I recognize s history pitch won't resonate in every workplace.  While not
explicit in many narratives about RM challenges, concerns about "those out
to embarrass" can weigh so heavily on some creators of records, countering
it not just with sticks, but carrots, too, is challenging.  Even with the
most empathetic, culturally sensitive RM pitches, it can be hard to

Mitigation of barraiers and opposition is part of change management.
Workplaces and organizational cultures vary greatly, of course.  Just as
with individuals, what works for some doesn't for others.  One size doesn't
fit all.  My latest blog post looks more broadly at online communications
and customization in change management as it affects archives and records,
among other issues:

Looking within your organization for good or benign outcomes from having
retained records (commemorating institutional anniversaries, sharing low
risk narratives, such as the history of the building where employees work,
or the writing of retirement letters that highlight recorded contributions,
can serve as a reminder of positive use of records.

The key is to identify records within your own organization that illustrate
in an easily relatable way how records might be used in the near present
and the future.  Sometimes a few examples in the context of national
history provide context, as well.  As above, many now are online and
available for educator use, not just for historians and traditional
researchers.  Worth considering, if possible!
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