Better Information for Better Government. 18 January 2017. Cabinet Office Digital Records and Information Management Team, working in collaboration with The National Archives and Government Digital Service.
“Managing information is critical for good government. Internally, information is the foundation of effective analysis and policy making. It provides the evidence to support decision making and it is a critical enabler of efficiency. Externally, it supports accountability of both civil servants and ministers through publications, audit, parliamentary scrutiny, freedom of information and ultimately through open public records. Information is one of the core assets of government. Like other assets, it needs to be managed well if we are to get best value from it. When information was predominantly held on paper, government was generally good at managing it. Files and filing were at the centre of how work got done: they were intrinsic to the flow of work, not an overhead on it. As a result, information could be organised and preserved and the lifecycle from initial creation through to long-term preservation and presentation was robust. As Sir Alex Allan noted in his 2015 Review of Government Digital Records, the transition from paper-based working to email and electronic documents undermined the rigour of information management across much of government. While little information has been lost altogether, much of what has accumulated over the past fifteen to twenty years is poorly organised, scattered across different systems and almost impossible to search effectively. This not only undermines government’s ability to structure and preserve long-term records, it also creates real and immediate risks for accounting officers, who may be unable to provide evidence for past decisions and actions or to meet their statutory obligations for public records and freedom of information. There is an immediate need to improve the organisation and management of departments’ accumulated digital records. Fortunately, the tools and techniques for doing so have improved rapidly in recent years and some departments are already making effective use of them. All departments need to be confident that they understand their digital information assets and have clear plans to ensure that they are managed in a way that addresses short term needs and risks and also supports long term preservation. There is also a need – and a great opportunity – to prevent the problem continuing to build up in future. The same tools and techniques will provide some help here too. The solution is primarily in the culture and work practices of the civil service. There needs to be clear accountability for information, as there is for other assets. Working practices need to recognise and value good information management with effective professional support for teams and projects. Getting information management right from the outset will deliver short term value through making better use of existing information and expertise and in doing so will deliver longer term value in managing information risks and creating a solid foundation for maintaining public records. This report, along with the programme of activity it describes, is the government’s response to Sir Alex Allan’s review. It sets an agenda for change and notes wider, structural issues that require further attention. As all departments are different, a single top-down approach will not succeed. Our focus is now on developing collaborative approaches across both departments and professional disciplines. We aim to test solutions and to promote the adoption of those which prove most effective.”