Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Practicing what we preach

There are not many days where I end up thinking, ‘God, why do I bother’, but today just happens to be one of them.

Few records and information managers would surely disagree that a large part of what we preach to others are:
- managing information appropriately
- providing access to information to only those who require it
- describing information appropriately to facilitate easy resource discovery
- limiting the amount of information being created, circulated and stored to a required minimum

I suspect that even fewer of us would disagree that the number of emails we all receive represent a major burden for us all as users. Indeed, I suspect many of us have produced guidance material or run training events designed to encourage our users to manage email appropriately and broadly in line with the aims I stated above.

So why, in the name of all that is holy, is it that a group of information and records managers seem singularly unable or unwilling to apply these same principles to their own activities?

Those who are not a member of a closed jiscmail list for information and records managers and compliance officers working in the UK FE/HE sectors will not know what I am talking about, but those who are most certainly will!

Here’s how it goes. One of the important functions of the list which has evolved over time is for institutions to check with colleagues whether other institutions have received the same FOI request (so called ‘round robins’ where one person sends a blanket request to a large number of institutions are surprisingly common and it can clearly be useful to know if the request received falls into this category). Now I clearly see the value in this and have no wish to interfere with this function at all. At the same time, the amount of email traffic this generates is quite considerable and usually consists of one person asking ‘has anyone received a request relating to X’ followed by somewhere between a dozen and twenty or more people replying saying ‘received here’ or ‘no, not received here’. Useful for the requestor and those others interested in such things, extremely irritating for those already snowed under by email and who have no need for such information.

After one particularly busy day of such email I suggested applying a little bit of information management to this problem (a radical idea I know). How about we agree a consistent subject heading for such requests? How about the person who originally sends the request uses the prefix ‘Round robin:…..’. Then those who do not wish to receive these emails can simply use the ‘rules’ functionality within their email client to automatically route such messages to their deleted items folder without troubling them. Those that are happy with the status quo and who wish to keep receiving these messages need to nothing at all. It doesn’t even require an action from those who reply to the original message as when they hit reply their message will automatically use the original subject heading containing ‘round robin’.

Not rocket science I know, but simple, unobtrusive and effective.

But not, apparently acceptable to the members of the list who, I believe decided not to adopt this radical step at a meeting last Friday. Now I wasn’t able to attend the meeting so do not know why not. Maybe I have overlooked some fundamental flaw in my reasoning, but if so no one has bothered to tell me what it is. All i do know is that it does rather make one despair about the profession.

Are we really that conservative that we are unable to countenance the concept of such change? Or are we so arrogant that we feel that the rules we seek to apply to others do not apply to us?

Either way such a minor and trivial issue has utterly depressed me on a wet and windy day


Anonymous said...

Perhaps 'those who do not wish to receive these emails' do not know how to use the ‘rules’ functionality within their email client to automatically route such messages to their deleted items folder?

Steve Bailey said...

I think you may have misread the situation. The problem that I allude to does not relate to the recipients of the emails, but to the senders.

The problem was not that those wishing to opt out did not know how to route the message to their deleted items folder; it was that senders seemed reluctant to use the consistent approach to titling that would be required for automatic routing to work

Anonymous said...

Interesting! It makes me think of the parallel with what you wrote in Managing The Crowd. Perhaps people will willingly tag, but not willingly and consistently add metadata (even Records and Information Mnagers). Perhaps there is a lesson to be learnt from that?

Literature Review said...

Whenever i see the post like your's i feel that there are still helpful people who share information for the help of

others, it must be helpful for other's. thanx and good job.
Literature Review

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this, Steve! I've seen some shocking records management from information professionals over the years, people who themselves have an excellent grasp of the topic. Do as we say, not as we do!