Is COVID-19 a threat or opportunity for electronic government records capture, access and preservation?
First published on Nextgov
The COVID-19 global pandemic has simultaneously and exponentially increased the production of electronic government records and the demand for online access to public records and information. Unprecedented volumes of official records dealing directly with the government’s pandemic response and recovery efforts — unemployment claims, small business loan applications, public health advisories and executive orders, press releases and statistics — must be captured, protected and preserved to enable essential services to be delivered and hold our leadership to account.
The tsunami of data and the hard pivot to remote work and home school has stretched government information management capabilities to their limits. So, what opportunities and threats are associated with the deluge of COVID-related data?
Unprecedented Collaboration and Communication
Across the globe and in every industry, stay-at-home orders have necessitated unparalleled levels of online collaboration and communications. As stated recently by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months,” a sentiment likely shared by educators and home workers struggling to adapt to remote access and a bevy of new applications.
Technology provisioning and rollouts have been accelerated with hastily adopted collaboration and communication platforms. Many jurisdictions launched new websites dedicated exclusively to COVID-19 guidance and advisories, and amped up their use of social media channels. Yet, as government agencies strive to provide information quickly, the usual consensus-building processes and supporting infrastructure may be lacking, potentially putting government recordkeeping and the public’s trust at risk.
Access to Public Records
Public access to government information is an underpinning of our democracy. As a result of the pandemic, many government-run services — from libraries to public pools — remain closed while other public facilities — like health clinics and court systems — are functioning differently, relying on telehealth calls and videoconferencing proceedings, with reduced staffing and hours of operation. Routine access to public record filing and retrieval has been cut off or severely diminished. The traditional flow of data from local governments to state governments to the federal government has been upended, creating serious gaps and inconsistencies in reporting and reliable statistics.
At the same time, demand for online access to public records and information is at an all-time high. Government actions, decisions and communications must be captured and protected in real time not only to serve current operational needs but also to be available and authentic in the future when the inevitable analysis and historical reckoning come to pass.
Government records managers and archivists are keenly aware of the threats facing electronic records, which are inherently more fragile than their physical counterparts. Rather than wait for the traditional transfer from the agencies and offices that produce the records, some forward-thinking practitioners are taking proactive steps to enable access, mitigate risk and protect electronic records today. This includes ramping up the capture rate of websites, daily harvesting of social media platforms, just-in-time training for remote workers, and updating access and use policies.
What are You Doing to Properly Protect Government Records?
The pandemic has raised the profile of risks and challenges associated with the systematic capture and protection of government records and sped up the transition to electronic government. The current crisis raises the bar for chief information officers, elected officials and government information technology professionals to more closely collaborate with records and archives management practitioners to ensure electronic records are findable, readable, and useable when and wherever required.
As government digital transformation initiatives move forward at breakneck speed, we have a unique chance to improve the systematic and sustainable capture, access, and preservation of electronic records to protect citizen rights, faithfully document the decisions and actions of government, and preserve our shared history.