Thursday, 12 November 2009

The making of a maturity model

Where to start when asked to produce a ‘maturity model’ for records management within the HE/HE sector? Maturity models and other benchmarking tools certainly seem to be popular at the moment in all sorts of areas, especially in relation to ICT. On the plus side they allow an organisation to think objectively and comprehensively about the subject in question. They encourage investigation and reflection and through the picture they paint allow organisations to celebrate their strengths and to address their weaknesses. Maybe it’s no surprise that such approaches are gaining in popularity at a time when budgets are being squeezed as a much clearer idea of spending priorities should emerge as a result of working through such a model. On the minus side I’m always slightly concerned about the terminology and the (unintended) slight which may be felt by those who cannot demonstrate full maturity in a particular area and who might, justifiably, be reluctant to admit to being ‘immature’.

I’m hopeful, however, that the emergence of maturity models for records management is, in itself, evidence of a new phase in the profession’s development. For these are not tools attempting to demonstrate the need for records management or to justify expenditure in it, they assume (rightly or wrongly) that that stage has already passed. No. The maturity model assumes that whatever it is that is being assessed – records management in this instance - is an accepted and valued function of the organisation and that what is required is an assessment of how well it is performing and the impact that it is having. Thus hopefully the very existence of such models are evidence of a new level of maturity for records management as a discipline.
But to return to my opening question: ‘where to start’ when asked to produce one? My first thought was that this is a potentially risky endeavour. After all, in order to assess ‘maturity’ this implies that you have a clear idea of what ‘mature’ records management should look like.

Starting from scratch in this regard seemed especially foolhardy. After all, it would be a pretty bold claim to assume that I alone or even we as a service were in a position to define what this would look like. Getting together a working group or consultation panel would have been another approach and would certainly have increased the chances of producing a more rounded model, but wouldn’t we then be in danger of trying to reinvent the wheel? After all, what we are talking about in terms of this picture of ‘mature’ records management is surely pretty similar to defining a ‘standard’ for records management – and, as we all know, there are plenty of those around already (as someone once said: the great thing about standards is that there are always so many to choose from!). And we certainly didn’t want to try to produce a JISC infoNet standard for RM for people to start comparing with and mapping against 15489 et al.

The most logical approach therefore seemed to be to make use of an existing definition of a mature RM system; one that is current, authoritative and which has been developed collaboratively. And this is where fortune smiled on us by allowing us to combine two parallel, but related agendas. For just at the time we were planning the maturity model so I was part of the working group helping the National Archives to revise the s.46 Code of Practice on records management which accompanies the UK Freedom of Information Act. Not only was this a statement of what RM should look like in a public authority in order to ensure compliance with the legislation which ticked all those boxes mentioned earlier, but was also an initiative that we would want to be supporting for the sector anyway. When the original COP was published JISC produced the Model Action Plan for FE/HE Compliance with the COP. We could have taken a similar approach and produced another sector-specific Model Action Plan for the updated Code but felt that a Maturity Model better reflected the fact that the sector is now nearly a decade further down the line and would better appreciate tools to help assess how they are doing, rather than one which assumes they are still yet to get started!

So although firmly based on the National Archive’s Code of Practice and developed with their knowledge and assistance it should be noted that this Maturity Model was developed separately to it and any mistakes or omissions are very much ours not theirs. It also therefore follows that this Maturity Model is quite specific in its focus and the model of mature records management that it represents – i.e. a model appropriate for UK further and higher education institutions who want to be able to ensure compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. Of course the benefits of achieving such a model should be felt much further and deeper than this and in many more contexts but this remains at its core.

The Maturity Model and guidance for its use are available from today and we look forward to hearing of your experiences in using it. We also hope that as many institutions as possible will submit their completed forms to us to enable us to get an overview of the current maturity of RM within the sector as a whole and thus help inform how we can best tailor our own efforts to continue to support it in the future.

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