How can your enterprise capture meaningful data from online sources like social networks -- and who is responsible for leading the effort?
Answering these questions can help an organization toward records agility, the ability to devise business process improvements based on identifying records or data sets from new sources, such as wikis or social networks.
The records and information manager is the catalyst for helping an organization create records agility; she or he creates the appropriate gear to empower colleagues’ decisions -- the basis of any online record-keeping effort.
To make this happen, this manager deploys an arsenal of tools that includes the records management policy, the electronic communications policy (and perhaps subsequent policies based on a particular technology, such as email or instant messaging), the records retention schedule, the records management processes and vocabulary indexes, and job aids or forms per department, functional team, or contract.
The most basic question to promote records agility is, "What is a record?" That question is strategic, legal, and cultural. A dozen employees sitting around a table can give a dozen reasons as to why a document should become a record. Hence the need for agility.
To allow enterprises to embrace new kinds of records easily calls for functional records retention schedules that define for employees what a record is -- because the answer to the question, "What is a record?" should always be based on content, never on medium.
For example, the records retention schedule will cite the correct retention period in the date span for “Accounts Payable” records, not the location or software in which those accounts payable records reside. This is one of the fundamental tenets of records and information management (RIM) that hasn't changed in the Web era. Email is not a record. The content of email is.
This approach allows enterprises to store online-related records, such as "memes."
A meme is a unit of replicated information -- the intellectual property of the general populace. Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene, identified memes in 1976 as:
- An idea that, like a gene, can replicate and evolve.
- A unit of cultural information that represents a basic idea that can be transferred from one individual to another, and subjected to mutation, crossover, and adaptation.
- A cultural unit (an idea or value or pattern of behavior) that is passed from one generation to another by nongenetic means (as by imitation); in Dawkins's words, “Memes are the cultural counterpart of genes.”
Currently, most records management policies eschew the idea of capturing memes and/or records from social media tools, for practicality purposes -- no one’s quite sure how to classify content from Web 2.0 yet. While the TwapperKeepers of the Web 2.0 world capture hash-tag threads for the twitterati’s general perusal, I’ve yet to hear of an organization identifying records from individual, posted lines of 140 characters for enterprise use, despite the fact that some independent researchers like the Web Ecology Project offer models to do so. The task of identifying records from social media is a task keeping many records and information managers up at night.
Soon, however, many records and information managers will need to identify memes as records and document why the organization would choose to use them.
Should the meme be a record because the entity owns the intellectual property of that meme, the question for the manager and her/his IT counterparts will become: What is a reasonable process for identifying a record? Will it be an internally developed algorithm of keyword identification, an XML schema, or perhaps a mathematical calculation?
To summarize: The RIM world has struggled thus far with capturing content as records from email and social media tools. But that’s about to change.
With the help of a team coordinated by a RIM specialist and including representatives from compliance, legal, and IT, it is possible -- and a crucial first step -- to create a policy that enables records agility and addresses the creation of records from social media tools. The procedure to capture that content will follow naturally.
— Mimi Dionne is a Certified Records Manager, a Certified Document Imaging Architect, a Certified Archivist, and a Project Management Professional.