Information Governance – Right now, We’re in the Wild West of Government Information Management

Enjoy it while it lasts.

Government agencies have not yet embraced the larger understanding of data, records, and the conceptual model of government information – the difference between “government mission” and “government corporate.”

At the moment, Knowledge Workers (who make up the large majority of government employee and contractor positions) are left to their own devices in terms of how to manage the lifecycle of government information, which is basically information’s generation, storage and maintenance, and proper reporting and disposition. Sounds easy, right? However, the pace of government work (the “OpTempo” – Operations Tempo) is often so busy and hectic and tasks knowledge workers perform are often so varied that the best intentioned information management solutions, which begin well-conceived, amount to little more than individual “custom paradigms” for content management. Very little government published information exists for government knowledge workers to help them understand how to manage information in such a way that it can serve a larger body – a greater data collection of government information. Lack of guidance has resulted in file folder structures with hundreds of thousands of folders and subfolders and terabytes of content (realistic results of an audit I performed on a government network file share within the last decade).

Depending on the task, a variety of options are provided for government knowledge workers to generate content. Once created, the knowledge worker has almost an equal number of options for temporary storage (which, as everyone knows, in reality, in time most often becomes long-term storage). The most abject failure of current government information management is how the onus of records management responsibility is put on the document creator, the knowledge worker – WHILE AN AUTOMATED SOLUTION EXISTS. Upon creation of the content, it becomes the content creator’s responsibility to proactively track and categorize the created content, aligned to each created items’ correct National Archives General Record Series for proper disposition at the appropriate time – performed by the knowledge worker.

In some government agencies, documents attached to emails broadcast to multiple recipients is commonplace with total disregard for the catastrophic records management problem just created. Inefficient storage is often allowed simultaneously on content management systems and network file shares and in email folder structures. Duplicated documents labeled as “xxx-draft.xxx”, then “xxx-finaldraft.xxx”, then “xxx-absolutefinaldraft-[initials]-[todaysdate].xxx,” are stored alone in forgotten folders.

This is the Information Wild West we’re living in, right now. These ungoverned freedoms have caused a nearly in-auditable content management environment. For these reasons, this virtual Wild West is doomed. It can’t last. Eventually, fences get erected and laws get put in place. That time is near.

Government agencies will soon realize the inefficiency of the environments they allowed to evolve. These inefficiencies include the inability to manage duplicate content across the multiple storage platforms, the inability to verify and audit content for records management accountability, the inability to provide exact responses to FOIA and legal discovery requests, and the inability to perform data analysis on unstructured repositories. In regards to FOIA and legal discovery, disorganized, inter-mixed content results in government agencies turning over content blocks (active/inactive/records/non-records/no classifications/no metadata/disputed ownership/etc.) responding to FOIA and discovery obligations. These problems must be addressed, but will never be fixed while content is managed in its current style. Throwing government money at the inefficiencies by purchasing a software solution without taking the time to think through the problem properly will not solve things either.

Software solutions to fix the technical needs of Information lifecycle management are available and all-inclusive; but agencies need to ask some fundamental questions keeping foremost in mind the pursuit of Records Management:

  • How long does Agency leadership plan to wait before restricting attachments to emails within government intranets?
  • How long does Agency leadership plan to wait before restricting the use of network file shares, except for specific purposes?
  • How long does Agency leadership plan to wait before implementing a unified system for the management of government corporate content?

These questions are seeking Content Governance – the primary element necessary before management of government content can begin. For the purpose of this document (without going into definitions), Information Governance, Content Governance, and Data Governance are considered the same.

Do information, content and data require governance?

Yes, in response to data analysis needs.

Standardized dashboards, driven by structured data and data analysis, provide leadership with common means to monitor all content systems. (Look for a future post on the performance metrics possible with structured government corporate content.)

However, once governance is in place, the Wild West ends. The freedom to generate and store multiple copies of content on multiple platforms with various permissions ignoring all records management requirements will end. Content Governance is the fence that will tame the government content management Wild West. But, probably not without some organizational cultural upheaval.

Government agencies composing content governance and data governance need to hold the target objective – a unified content management process, managing content for unique items/records accountability/required metadata, implementing contextually driven permissions – in the background as governance is crafted. Fully understanding the conceptual model of government agency information, holding it in the foreground, is likewise essential while scripting data governance.

The conceptual model of government information objectifies the totality of any government agency’s information into two subdomains: Government Mission and Government Corporate (Business).

In terms of content, Government Mission is defined as content generated in support of the agency’s purpose, its mission. At the Department of State, all information generated in support of international diplomacy would be considered ‘Mission’ content; any information regarding law enforcement at the FBI is considered ‘Mission’ content.

Government Corporate content refers to all content that is generated in support of a variety of corporate functions, many of which are common to all government agencies, among which are Acquisition, Admin, Budgeting, Communications, Facilities, Finance, Installations, IT, Security, Personnel, etc., etc., across the government. These functions and the content generated in support of them are the “business” of government performed to “keep the lights on” at every government level.

Understanding this model allows Agency governance authors to unburden themselves from manually governing corporate content. As “corporate content” is considered the same across all agencies, it can be managed the same in all agencies in accordance with the government rules in place for the governance of government corporate content – the National Archives Records Management Program.

Do not burden corporate content with organizational requirements established for agency “mission” content!

While other external auditing requirements may exist for specific content (Finance and Acquisition come to mind), those requirements will arrive addressed to subordinate offices.

Attention Governance Authors! – NARA’s RECORDS MANAGEMENT DIRECTIVES ARE THE ONLY GUIDANCE FOR GOVERNMENT CORPORATE CONTENT!

Once the governance is in place, management of systems is defined. Stay tuned!

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