I’ve always considered aggregation a cornerstone of records management. Conceptually aggregations make sense to me – records or “the record” of a particular transaction or event being a group of “documents” which provide the complete picture. In my mind I link aggregation with the principle Records should be complete a principle which appears in many earlier Australian recordkeeping standards and guidelines. As a concept aggregation appears to have been well understood WRT physical records where physical documents are aggregated into files with the File Title reflecting the context of a particular transaction or series of transactions.
Records should be complete: a record should contain not only the content, but also the structural and contextual information necessary to document a transaction. It should be possible to understand a record in the context of the organizational processes that produced it and of other, linked records.
Metadata for physical records and rules for processing physical records (access, security, disposal) were also based around the aggregation. Disposition schedules – classes and rules are strongly based on aggregations. For example in NAA ADFA 2010 Class 1010 specifies:
Records documenting routine arrangements supporting ceremonies to mark special occasions. Includes catering, venue bookings and entertainment. Destroy 2 years after action completed.
and the inference is that the “action” refers to the completion of transactions for the ceremony, not for an action on a particular document within the aggregation.
Managing aggregations of digital records is not so simple
Here are just some of the challenges:
- How to establish terminology and definitions which can be applied to to digital systems. What does last action really mean? Current functional specifications have done nothing to address this issue.
- How to educate system developers to address aggregation within digital systems. ie metadata connected to aggregations; linking through metadata or linking functionality;
- Many systems such as SharePoint lack the mechanisms to dispose of aggregations, and can only dispose of individual documents.
- Many systems lack the mechanisms to retain evidence (metadata) of disposed records once the document have been destroyed or transferred.
- Recordkeeping metadata standards specify the capture of functions and activities for context. For these we mostly have controlled vocabularies. We don’t yet have standards controlling other descriptive metadata. The absence of vocabulary control for subject and transaction metadata will always result in incomplete records.
- Many (dare I say most) disposition schedules are still being written for legacy records management systems. We need to develop disposition schedules which can function more easily within business systems, because if we have learned anything over the past few years it is that business users are resistant to using enterprise records management systems.
These are complex challenges but ones that must be addressed becasue the principle of aggregation is (I strongly believe) essential to best practice recordkeeping.
Click here for a glossary of information governance definitions.
First published February 5 2012 on www.synerconblog.co, now merged with this site.