Knowledge services converges information management, knowledge management (KM), and strategic learning. Archives management is that branch of knowledge services dealing with an organization’s collection of historical records, usually materials selected for permanent or long-time preservation and expected to be of some value at some later time in history or, in some cases, simply to preserve a record or evidence of some activity in the life of the company or enterprise.
Knowledge services comes into the archives picture because, once archives have been distinguished from records (materials currently in use and retained in the organization’s current work records), archives become part of the company’s management legacy. The information contained in archives must be managed, the place of archives in the organizational knowledge-development process must be available, and a structure for sharing the knowledge contained in the archives – strategic learning – must enable their re-use.
Making the connection between knowledge services and archives management involves five specific steps. Incorporating concepts identified by SMR International colleague Dale Stanley in another context, the following should be useful to the strategic knowledge specialist:
1. Figure out what you need. Managing archives begins with identifying what organizational affiliates require as they do their work. What kind of information, knowledge, and strategic learning are they asking for (now and in the recent past). Your “game plan” should include interviews and formal knowledge audits, typical methods for identifying need.
2. Who’s responsible? Is there a single director-level employee in charge of knowledge strategy, or are knowledge services-related decisions made informally, on the fly, and in whatever section or division needs to make the decision? Or is there some “in-between” management framework for dealing with knowledge content in the organization? You may not be in a position to change the knowledge services framework, but to implement knowledge services for archives (see # 5 below), you have to have a clear understanding of how knowledge services – as a management methodology – is handled in the company (and as the company’s knowledge thought leader, you know that single-unit management is best, but you have to work with whatever is in place).
3. What’s the KM/knowledge services archives management strategy? Before you attempt to try to figure out what solutions you require, you need to think about how you respond to the corporate need with respect to managing archives. Is the company a long-established firm with a clearly stated archives policy? How does the corporate culture deal with matters relating to archives? Is a new approach required? Develop a strategy for addressing the company’s archives management needs; this is a critical step before you get to looking for “solutions.” And remember that “strategy” includes linkages with the larger organization’s mission and other environmental aspects, the culture and structure of the organization, and change management strategies including sponsorship and communications.
4. Develop “solutions.” In today’s management environment, solutions relating to knowledge services usually include automation (including decisions re development and software and – with respect to archives – a policy for archiving materials “born digital”). You will also give attention to organizational culture, workplace assumptions and expectations, and workflow. At the same time, remember that our workplace solutions do not yet (and probably never will) disdain hard-copy archival materials. Knowledge services for archives includes understanding and managing traditional artifacts as well as digitized content.
5. Implementation. The knowledge strategy for archives management requires expertise (or at least a familiarity with) a number of important related methodologies: project planning, change management and communication, as mentioned above, and strategic learning (both formal training and institutionalized informal knowledge sharing).
Here’s an example, a situation that will be considerably eased if the company where you work has a knowledge services strategy for archives management. About ten years ago, the company had a brief strategic alliance with a firm in Thailand. There was never an “official” Bangkok office for your company, although there was, someone remembers, a staff member or two in the office of the company with whom the alliance was made. Now a new strategic alliance is being considered by management, and a history of projects undertaken with the Bangkok team is required. Corporate archives, if managed according to the steps listed above, will provide management with what it needs to move the new alliance forward.