Evaluating the appraisal process of public sector records in Zimbabwe

An often quoted estimate is, less than five percent of government records are of enduring value and therefore need to be preserved permanently. It is neither practical nor desirable to preserve all records created by every agency. Records must be removed, and records must be destroyed. In this paper the author is going to critically evaluate the appraisal process of public sector records in Zimbabwe and comment whether the process is effective and make recommendations for improvement.

Appraisal is ‘the process of determining the value of records for further use, for whatever purpose ,and the length of time for which that value will continue, also known as evaluation, review or selection’. Griffin [1999:5].Appraisal involves determining what the records are, who creates them and how they relate to the agency’s function and other records, how they are used, when and by whom. It is the aim of appraisal and disposal to ensure that records are either destroyed or transferred to an archival institution at the right time, as a result of systematic implementation of decisions made concerning the continuity utility and enduring value for records. Appraisal helps identify records that aught to be removed and destroyed from records offices.

In Zimbabwean organizations records appraisal is less known due to the fact that there are few records management professionals employed in government departments. Where records management personnel are employed, they are found in junior positions in organization to an extent that they can not influence any positive change as far as records appraisal is concerned.

Records appraisal in Zimbabwean public service is usually taken as an ad-hoc measure. There is no systematic planning records appraisal or records appraisal is never done at all. Sometimes records appraisal is done due to a problem of limited office space which would have been caused by a built up of semi-current records. Officials choose unwanted records in offices to dispose, usually by selling to recycled paper companies. It is actually not records appraisal but a matter of creating office space.

This system is totally not effective because no one in public sector organizations is specifically assigned to manage organizational records. Records personnel employed in the public service are merely records clerks and assistants whose main duties is to receive and file mail, their duties do not involve records appraisal and disposal. The result is that records continue to pile in offices filling up storage equipment and office space. 

My advice to improve the records appraisal system in the Zimbabwean public sector is that appraisal and disposal of records should be a continuing and systematic process undertaken in the context of an agreed strategy. There aught to be a government or organizational appraisal strategy which should contribute to the wider organizational business strategy.

The life-cycle appraisal strategy ensures that records are appraised at creation. Such advance appraisal is feasible, because it is possible to identify the value of most records on the basis of importance of the functions they document. Traditionally, the appraisal of records had been handled by Records Managers and Archivists separately but due to the proponents of the Integrated Records Management Program, records managers and archivists have affirmed that management of records throughout their life-cycle must take place as a continuum of care not as a series of discrete phases.

The records life-cycle is a concept that draws an analogy between the life a living organism which is born, lives and dies and that of a records which is created, maintained and used in an organization and then disposed by detraction or transferred to an archival institution.

If records are appraised at creation or at the early stages of the records life-cycle, it would be possible to reduce the appraisal and disposal process to a routine wherever possible, so that it becomes part of the regular activities of the records professionals and administration. The ad-hoc appraisal exercises are a sign of poor record-keeping systems

The basis of appraisal must be at the series level. Item-by-item appraisal is not encouraged though applicable in disorderly managed records systems. Item-by-item is time consuming and labor intensive. When records are properly arranged and when administrative, policy and case files are clearly differentiated, it is easier to make a single appraisal decision that will stand throughout the life-cycle.

As the author had already indicated that situations for item-by-item reviews, some series will certainly contain valuable information, but the quantity will be insufficient in relation to the total volume of records to justify retaining the entire series. In such instances, the selection of individual records is a valid option; thus the only practicable appraisal decision may be undertaken on item by item review.

Appraisal of duplicate sources of information requires that only compact, complete or accessible records should be retained, but there will be exceptions to this rule when the interests of the agency would only partially be met by retaining a single source of the information. Duplicate sources of information means the same version of records can be found in different media, electronic, paper and microform. It also means the same record type is distributed in different locations of the same organization.

Case files may have to be appraised differently from other records. Case files have the same subject matter, but each individual files relates to a different person, institution, place or project. They are also know as particular instances files. Case files are bulky and can rarely be preserved in their nature. However, they contain valuable information for research and statistical analysis. They may contain records of enduring value such as evidential value for transactions. The appraisal of case files involves determining if the value of that record had cease. Those selected for permanent storage are sent to the archival institution.

Most records cease to have long-term utility after a short period of time and records of long term utility are as follows: personnel records, records copies of agency publications, records documenting precedent, legal instrument, records documenting continuing rights or obligations of the state, the agency of third parties under national or international law, records relating to the formulating of legislation or policy. These records are selected for permanent preservation.

For an effective appraisal process to take place there must be a records control mechanism in an agency. The records control measures will include the agency file classification system, correspondence registers; file plans indexes, software manuals and the coding systems.

According to Roper and Miller [1999:29]: ‘ No appraisal decision is perfect, and it may be necessary to re-examine appraisal decisions to determine if a more appropriate decision can be made. Access to the reasoning behind the original decision is essential.’ So the appraisal of records of the Zimbabwean public sector must be improved by following guidelines in this paper.

In conclusion, without appraisal, records and archives management will be insignificant disciplines. Appraisal helps records managers and archivists achieve economy and efficiency in the management of records and archives.

References

Roper and Miller, 1999, Records Appraisal Systems, UK, IRMT
Cook, 1991, The Archival Appraisal of Records Containing Personal Information: A RAMP study With Guidelines. UNESCO website Paris
Derek, 1984, Records Surveys and Schedules, A RAMP Study with Guidelines , Paris, UNESCO
Guptil, 1985, Archival Appraisal of Records of International Organizations, Paris, UNESCO

Etiwel Mutero holds a Bsc  Honours Degree in Records and Archives Management from the Zimbabwe Open University.Do you want assistance in writing your college or university assignment? You can contact Etiwel Mutero on 00263773614293 or etiwelm02@gmail.com



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