How good records management helps open data

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data spelled out with scrabble letters

As states and municipalities across the country adopt open data policies, they’ve been recognizing the benefits of proactively sharing public information online and confronting questions about the best way to achieve that vision.

The good news is that there are already resources within government to help. As with any change in organizational practice, it’s important for government as an organization to recognize the strengths that reside within existing staff. For the new challenge of managing open data, a natural source of strength lies in the knowledge and experience of government’s long-time data managers: their clerks.

State and local clerks, records managers and archivists all play a vital role in the creation, storage and preservation of public records. Since public records are the foundation for open data, it only makes sense to include — from the beginning — the people involved in that process when crafting an open data initiative. These staff bring crucial expertise about public records laws, records management, and historical material to the conversation about how these processes can feed into proactively sharing information online.

Looking to create a comprehensive list of information holdings? It’s something the clerk might already have, since records are often tracked and categorized by series and groups.

Looking for information to help determine how to prioritize the release of datasets? Records managers likely already track the number of requests for certain kinds of information, which can help show what people are most interested in having access to and knowing more about.

Looking to determine how to appropriately safeguard sensitive information? It’s something those who manage records requests already have to handle.

Looking for opportunities to digitize how information is collected? Clerks would know what forms might be a good fit for electronic filing. They could also help standardize those forms that aren’t yet a good fit for e-filing.

Looking to digitize and share archival material? The archivist might know of some material that is already digitized and can be shared online.

Records managers, clerks and archivists are the original roles within government charged with the preservation of information, after all.

Including records managers, clerks and archivists seems like a natural fit when oversight authority is being created for open data efforts, but it’s not something that’s often considered in open data policies.

These staff can point out potential obstacles in the implementation of open data policies. Records management involves understanding what information the government holds, what details are contained there, and the laws governing the use and release of such information.

That’s why we’ll be exploring some of the specific questions that people in these roles can help address, and we’ll be answering some of the concerns they’ve raised about how open data and current records management laws might conflict. It all adds up to a case for updating the existing records systems to embrace the efficiencies empowered by open data. It’s something that can ultimately benefit those producing, managing, preserving, and using public records.

Look for more from us soon.