Research Issues in Literary Warrant
Richard J. Cox and Wendy Duff
Electronic Records Meeting
May 29, 1997
We have little interest in discussing our previous research as the findings are readily available. Furthermore where the National Historical Publications and Records Commission-funded project (the so-called Pittsburgh Project) ended was not anticipated when the project commenced. The original aims of this project, carried out from 1993 through 1996, included the development of viable recordkeeping functional requirements, an analysis of organizational variables affecting hardware-software utilization in electronic records management, and the evaluation of software technical capabilities to satisfy recordkeeping requirements. This project had four main products or outcomes: recordkeeping functional requirements, production rules to support the requirements, metadata specifications for recordkeeping, and the literary warrant reflecting the professional and societal endorsement of the concept of the recordkeeping functional requirements.
As we proceeded with the project we ultimately turned our attention to the idea of the literary warrant -- defined as the mandate from law, professional best practices, and other social sources requiring the creation and continued maintenance of records. Wendy Duff's doctoral research found that warrant can increase the acceptance of some recordkeeping functional requirements, and therefore the warrant has the potential to build bridges between professionals and others concerned with or responsible for recordkeeping. We did not anticipate the value of the literary warrant and, in the hindsight now available to us, the concept of the warrant may turn out to be the most important outcome of the project. Warrant drives how we define records, why we manage records in the ways we do, and how we develop functional requirements for records systems. Warrant is certainly the most important aspect of the original research project calling for additional research. Numerous questions concerning warrant and its ability to increase the acceptance of recordkeeping requirements still remain to be answered. For example, a number of questions arise directly from our previous research.
The authority of different kinds of standards needs to be evaluated as we continue to develop our understanding of warrant for recordkeeping. The authority of information technology standards requires further study. In our previous research we found that information technology standards may lack authority. However, the number of individuals who evaluated the sources of warrant was extremely small. A much larger number of standards should be included in a subsequent study and a greater number of subjects are needed to evaluate these standards. It would be useful to include both information technology experts and managers of information technology in the study to investigate differences in their perceptions of the importance of adhering to standards. The authority of auditing standards appears to be more accepted, but a thorough study of the authority of this literature would also be valuable. Our study found evidence of confusion over the meaning of some requirements, in particular those that relate to structure. When the specifications for the requirements are rewritten, they should be tested on subjects to discover if their intended meaning is self-evident.
Furthermore, new research should use a control group that evaluates the requirements without any warrant as a means of understanding more fully the value of warrant in general and the value of particular sources for warrant. More definitive conclusions on how subjects evaluate the requirements when they are not presented with any warrant is required to understand the true value of warrant. We found a strong interaction between warrant and the functional requirements for electronic recordkeeping systems. Research that studies this interaction and determines the different facets that may affect it might provide more insights into the relationship between the warrant and the functional requirements. The previous study compared the effectiveness of a legal statement of warrant to a statement of auditing warrant, to a statement of information technology warrant, and to no warrant. A study that tested the effectiveness of different statements of legal warrant would help to discover whether the statements themselves made any differences in the evaluations. If some legal warrant proved more influential than others, it might help shed some light on the interaction between the warrant and the requirements. It might also help to reveal whether lawyers were influenced by the wording of the warrant, or whether they were affected only by the authority of the source.
Our previous research provided some evidence that lawyers may be more affected by warrant than information technologists or auditors. Unfortunately the small sample sizes did not enable any conclusive findings to be made. Moreover, it was not possible to determine whether lawyers were most affected because legal warrant has the most authority, or whether legal warrant is most effective because lawyers are more influenced by it because of their limited working-knowledge. Another study that used a larger sample in each professional group may help to determine why legal warrant is effective in influencing opinions of the functional requirements. This next study would need to recruit subjects with a law degree and a greater working-knowledge of computers to determine if legal sources affect the opinions of lawyers who are computer literate.
The importance of a set of requirements is dependent upon the value of the evidence that the system contains. Our research attempted to orient subjects by providing an imaginary situation in which a system would be implemented. Further studies should recruit volunteers from the same organization and use a real systems application with which the subjects are familiar. Furthermore, we need to develop a better understanding of the degree to which the warrant for recordkeeping operates in various industries, disciplines, and other venues. Some institutions operate in a much more regulated environment than others, suggesting that the importance of records and the understanding of records may vary considerably between institutional types, across disciplines and from country to country. Warrant should be drawn from different business sectors, such as the pharmaceutical industry or the medical field. This warrant should then be tested on professionals working in the relevant profession or industry. An information technology manager working for a pharmaceutical industry may be more influenced by regulations that control his/her organization than information technology standards.
The functional requirements should be rewritten to eliminate confusion. Moreover, the recordkeeping functional requirements for evidence, as already drafted out in the Pittsburgh Project, may need to be modified to support recordkeeping requirements for corporate memory or accountability or some other all encompassing value for records and recordkeeping. We need to consider whether the recordkeeping functional requirements for evidence hold up or need to be revised for recordkeeping requirements for corporate memory, accountability, and cultural value. Furthermore, we need to identify warrant for accountability, corporate memory and cultural value. The warrant gathered to date has primarily focused on technical, legal or administrative value of records. A study that tested the effectiveness of warrant that supported the cultural or historical mandate of archives might help archivists gain support for other archival programs. We need to develop effective methods for identifying the most authoritative sources for warrant. Will the same methods work for all literatures and all countries? Are all the elements of the currently defined requirements equal in weight? Can warrant identify the relative importance of the requirements? What are the international implications for the concept of warrant supporting recordkeeping functional requirements? Is the notion of warrant more highly defined and understood in Europe than in the United States, in Canada than in Caribbean nations? Will warrant be more or less effective in other cultures.
This kind of concern leads us to needing to do a lot more research about the understanding of records and recordkeeping in particular institutions, disciplines, and societies. A content analysis of the laws, regulations, case law, and other legal sources as well as that of the relevant professional literatures such as auditing or information technology would help to determine the degree to which the concepts of records and recordkeeping, as embedded in the existing functional requirements, are understood and deemed important or essential. We need to understand what industries and disciplines are most aware of the warrant that regulates them and determines how records and recordkeeping systems will be used. Do these organizations speak in terms of warrant? Why are some organizations more aware than others about the significance of the warrant and their own records? Are high risk organizations more aware or are there other reasons determining varying levels of awareness and understanding? The kind of research carried out by the New York State Archives and Records Administration in its Building Partnerships Project, investigating why certain agencies had good recordkeeping practices, could be replicated with a focus on the concept of warrant and the reasons why records are created, needed to be maintained, and sometimes destroyed. Research on the emerging literature, admittedly highly uneven in quality, about the administration of records in the PROFS case, the Somalia affair, the Swiss banks and the financial assets of Holocaust victims, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service records mismanagement as documented by former I.R.S. Historian Shelley Davis, the tainted blood scandal in Canada and the Queensland, Australia "Shreddergate" case, and other highly publicized instances of illegal deliberate records destruction or concealment could also lead to a better definition of the warrant concept and its relative merits.
A broader, and perhaps equally important question, are whether individual professionals and workers are even aware of their regulatory environment? In Wendy Duff's dissertation, one of the legal subjects stated that it was impossible to be a fully compliant organization because of the quantity and diversity of the laws, regulations, and best practices that regulate or inform work. Research that investigates the degree to which organizations are aware of their regulatory environment is needed. Are some laws and regulations better known than others? For example, are lawyers fully cognizant of the Federal Rules of Evidence but ignorant of federal regulations concerning recordkeeping? Such research should also discover whether people understand the recordkeeping implications of such rules. For example, how many people working in ISO 9000 companies understand the recordkeeping implications of being ISO 9000 compliant? Which professions are most aware of the warrant that regulates them? Are they most aware of their own professional warrant, with the warrant the regulates their particular organization, or warrant with the most authority? What do the current application projects in the City of Philadelphia, Indiana University, and New York State Center for Technology -- using the recordkeeping functional requirements in the diverse environments of government and higher education -- suggest in terms of revision for the current recordkeeping functional requirements for evidence or the concept of warrant prompting such requirements?
We also need to extend our understanding of how organizations work and how records fit into this work environment and culture. How do the notion of the warrant and the recordkeeping functional requirements relate to the ways in organizations work and the management tools they use, such as business process reengineering and data warehousing? Since most researchers studying corporate memory, for instance, rely more on institutional symbols or individual memories than records or archives, what does this tell us about how organizations may or may not embrace the concept of warrant or support the implementation of the functional requirements into electronic and other recordkeeping systems? What are the economic implications for organizations to comply with the functional requirements for recordkeeping in evidence? Do the costs of compliance vary significantly from institution to institution, from discipline to discipline, from nation to nation? Does warrant determine the cost of non-compliance? How do organizations presently identify the requirements for the recordkeeping systems? Most system design textbooks, for example, describe procedures for identifying the internal requirements for recordkeeping, but to what degree do they elaborate on methods for identifying external requirements, such as represented by the notion of warrant? How well do textbooks and courses on systems design highlight the need to consider external requirements?
Archivists traditionally have not just been responsible for institutional records. Even institutional archivists sometimes become responsible for acquiring the personal records of individuals associated with their organization. Is there a warrant and separate recordkeeping functional requirements for individual or personal recordkeeping? Research seems needed on self-help guides on individual records management, genealogical manuals for maintaining personal and family papers. Australian archivists, such as Adrian Cunningham, Sue McKemmish, and Frank Upward, have been exploring the implications of personal recordkeeping and the differences and similarities of such recordkeeping with that of businesses and government. Richard Cox has explored a bit the implications of letter-writing manuals, advise volumes that date back to the sixteenth century and have antecedents even in the ancient world, for a notion of warrant for individual records generation and maintenance. As more individuals, especially writers, financial leaders, and corporate and societal innovators, adopt electronic information technologies for the creation of their records, an understanding of the degree of warrant for such activity and our ability to use this warrant to manage these recordkeeping systems must be gained.
More work has to be done on the implications of warrant and the functional requirements for the development of viable archives and records management programs. Many archivists have argued on behalf of their programs as repositories for old records or for the protection of the raw data for the handful of historical scholars that may have need or interest in using such records. Many records managers have argued on behalf of their programs as records warehouses that can reduce costs or promote economy and efficiency in the organization's management of its records and information. In truth, we have little understanding about what has worked in the past, and we need to ascertain the factors in successful development of institutional records management and archives programs, particularly the role that warrant and recordkeeping functional requirements may play in such program development. How would warrant-based recordkeeping affect the way we keep records? How would warrant-based practice alter the role of the archivist or records manager? How does the role of the institutional archivist and records manager change or not change with the concept of the warrant for recordkeeping? Does the warrant concept suggest, in effect, a role for the archivist or records manager in which they become the individual responsible for helping the organization understand the external and other factors dictating the nature of the institution's recordkeeping? Even the traditional collecting historical manuscripts repository may have to reconsider its role in the light of dramatically changing personal and organizational recordkeeping realms. What impact on archival collecting repositories does the concept of warrant for recordkeeping have on practice?
The warrant concept, along with the recordkeeping functional requirements, seem to possess immense pedagogical implications for what future archivists or practicing archivists, seeking to update their skills, should or would be taught. In the past, in North America at least, students, at both entry and continuing levels, have been educated about particular archival functions, such as appraisal, arrangement and description, preservation, reference and access, and program management. The warrant suggests something else. Richard Cox, for example, at his school has been shifting the focus of his teaching and student research to educating students to become experts on records and recordkeeping systems. The records management course at the University of Toronto requires all students search for warrant to support records retention decisions. We need to determine the effectiveness of using the warrant and recordkeeping functional requirements as a basis for graduate archival and records management education and for developing needed topics for research by masters and doctoral students. How does warrant affect traditional archival tasks such as appraisal or description? What is the warrant for appraisal, archival description, etc.? Can the warrant and recordkeeping functional requirements support the development of either stronger links or even archival and records management education programs in other professional schools for medicine, business, law, and public administration? If we speak in terms of warrant-based recordkeeping will the links be easier to forge? As we develop a stronger sense of the warrant for recordkeeping in different disciplines, the development of archives and records management courses and programs in such professional schools seems a logical direction to pursue. The accommodation of graduate programs in history departments has been due to the traditional concepts of archives as the raw stuff for historical research and by library and information science schools due to the latter's willingness to expand their curricular offerings to any field somehow responsible for information management. The next generation of educational programs might be those located in other professional schools, focusing on the particular requirements for records in such institutions as corporations, hospitals, and the courts.
We also need to determine the effectiveness of using the warrant and recordkeeping functional requirements in continuing education, public outreach, and advocacy for helping policy makers, resource allocators, administrators, and others to understand the importance of archives and records. Can the warrant and recordkeeping functional requirements support or foster stronger partnerships with other professions, citizen action groups, and other bodies interested in accountability in public organizations and government? The daily headlines of newspapers with articles on records as sources for evidence and accountability, for example, suggest the value of pushing the warrant concept as the basis for modern recordkeeping. Focusing on the mandate to keep and manage records instead of the records as artifacts or interesting stuff seems much more relevant in the late twentieth century society.