Friday, 7 February 2014

Information Integrity: Lessons from Finland




James Lowry from the International Records Management Trust writes about his recent study trip to Finland and IRMT's research on information integrity


The open government movement has stimulated an international discourse on information management and use. This can be seen in Open Government Partnership ‘national action plan’ provisions for the release of government information and the growth of citizen-focused open data projects. Questions are now being asked about the integrity of the government information that is being opened up. Where does it come from? How can we be sure it is authentic? How can we be sure it is accurate? How can we ensure that it is up to date?


The records management discipline has developed the technical knowledge and tools to protect the integrity of information, for instance through the management of contextual metadata and the long-term preservation of digital records. This expertise will become increasingly relevant to the open government movement, as information with integrity becomes an expectation.


Questions about the integrity of government information become all the more significant in countries where basic records management controls have not been instituted. The International Records Management Trust (IRMT) is a UK charity that is working to support developing countries in addressing records management challenges, to strengthen governments’ ability to deliver services and be accountable to citizens.


IRMT’s research has identified that the advances being made in northern Europe hold lessons for governments that wish to become more open while assuring citizens of the integrity of their records and data. For instance, Norway has created, through a combination of laws, standards and technology, an approach to openness built on information integrity. Norway has created an online portal through which users can view the metadata of government records and request access. Users can be assured of the reliability of the information they are accessing because standardised records systems have been used to protect the integrity of the records and data from their creation.


With support from the Finnish Institute in London, IRMT is studying the Government of Finland’s approach to digital records and data management and preservation. In January, we visited the National Archives of Finland to examine the laws, standards and systems that are being developed to ensure the capture and preservation of digital information with integrity so that it is available to decision-makers and citizens.


The National Archives of Finland has supported government agencies in defining Lifecycle Management Plans (eAMS) for their records. These plans define the management requirements for the lifecycle of all records created or received by agencies and managed in digital records management systems. Based on in-depth work process analysis, the eAMSs identify all record types and comprehensively set out the provisions for their management from creation or receipt to final disposition (destruction or transfer to the National Archives). The eAMSs are integrated into digital records management systems, in compliance with the SAHKE2 standard.


The National Archives introduced SAHKE2 in 2009 as a national standard for digital records management. It specifies the functionality that government systems must have to protect the integrity of digital records, and it standardises metadata to support interoperability and the consistent treatment of digital records throughout their life. Through the eAMSs and SAHKE2, the National Archives has created a framework for controlling the management of records that incorporates case and workflow management while ensuring the capture and preservation of records with integrity.


The records that have enduring value will eventually be transferred for permanent preservation in the National Archives’ VAPA digital repository. VAPA has been developed in line with international good practice in digital preservation, complying with the OAIS reference model and featuring a checking service to validate the authenticity of records. Records can be certified as authentic, and of great interest to users of open data, the datasets held in VAPA can also be certified as authentic. Users can access records and datasets held in VAPA, as well as digital surrogates and metadata for paper records, via the Astia interface.

Finland’s advances in digital information management seem a long way from the realities of records management in many lower resource countries, but if a means could be found to transfer Finland’s digital records management expertise, national archives in developing countries could begin to develop the capacity to manage and preserve the digital records that are already being created in their agencies. This would be a crucial step towards assuring information integrity as a basis for true transparency and accountability.