A record by any other name?

A storm has erupted over a proposal to give the Records Management Association of Australasia (RMAA) a new identity, with CEO Kate Walker announcing a plan to become instead the Information Management Professionals Australasia (IMPA).

Revealing the proposal had been agreed to at the latest RMAA board meeting, Walker explained, “Records Management professionals and the Association have branched out into various types of Information Management areas, it has been harder and harder to define succinctly what we do with just the term Records Management.

“While the words "records management" remains important to the identity of the profession, it is no longer the best descriptor for what our profession encompasses. It conjures images of traditional "filing and mailroom functionality that can limit or even be detrimental to the overall image of the profession. Many professionals have moved beyond traditional records management settings and are prevalent in nearly every professional field, affecting compliance, legal, economics, management, health care, logistics and education in addition to our traditional territory of records management. The word "Information Management" better describes our growth, evolution, relevance and skills.”

Around 1000 professional members will be eligible to vote for or against the new nomenclature at the RMAA’s annual general meeting, to be held on September 7, 2010 at Inforum, the organisation’s annual conference and exhibition on the Gold Coast. Attendance at the annual conference is typically around the 300 mark, with absent members able to vote at the AGM by proxy.

Discussion is likely to be heated as the RMAA’s listserv discussion forum has already seen strong opposition to the proposal from prominent records management professionals.

Strident opposition to proposal has come from respected consultant and author Barbara Reed, of Recordkeeping Innovation, who was recently commissioned to write for the Government 2.0 Taskforce on preservation of records in the web 2.0 world.

“I think that records have a huge role to play in the larger and broader information management agenda. And they should. HOWEVER, this doesn't mean that records management=information management. Records management is a PART of information management – an important part, and the part that we have a particular professional responsibility for - but it is not the whole,” wrote Reed.

“Records are not just the same as other information resources. They need to be regarded as a specific subset of information resources. The distinctions are clear. Records arise out of doing business action (defined very broadly). They need to be persistently linked with that business action and the actors involved with the action. In addition they need to be managed in ways that preserve and enable us to make authoritative statements about their authenticity, reliability, integrity and useability. While some other information resources share some of these requirements, the whole of the notion of evidence of action (i.e. records) depends on it. It’s not a nice add on. And it’s that set of understandings that we have to offer to the broader information management agenda.

Others have joined in the ongoing debate, and following is a sample of recent postings:

“If we need to broaden the definition, then why not to Records and Information Management (RIM) as used in the US and Canada? However the term records is critical WRT to purpose and identity.”

Or another.

“I am a member of a number of professional associations that represent my professional activities and interests and each has its place i.e. RMAA , ASA, IIM (Institute of Information Management) and AIIM . I don't believe there is a one size fits all solution.”

Or this.

“I think there are distinct things that we, records managers, can contribute to the information management milieu, if we present ourselves as a distinct profession. In particular:

- A distinct methodology regarding the identification, capture and management of evidence of business activities. I am not just referring to evidence in the narrow legal sense, but also to evidence that supports informed decision making, strategic planning and administrative
accountability requirements.

- A means of systematically and compliantly disposing of information that no longer supports business activities. I really don't think that other information professions have much of an idea about disposal.

- A capacity to control and manage information, over time, using sophisticated tools, such as the internationally recognized records continuum.

- The recognition of the utility of records as risk mitigation tools.

I think the idea of responding to the enormous changes occurring in the information management milieu by abandoning our professional identity would be a very big mistake.

Finally, on a lighter note, this.

“I think we should let Paul the Octopus select the new name.”