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Report of the Access to Government Information Services Task Force
 

The following report was produced by Library and Archives Canada's Access to Government Information Services Task Force in response to the long backlog of requests made under ATIP legislation. The CHA, represented by Robert H. Dennis, Graduate Student Liaison, sat on its User Advisory Committee, and wishes to disseminate the Task Force's findings.
Final March 17, 2005

Introduction

The Access to Government Information Services Task Force was established in October 2004. Its genesis lay in the 18 to 20 month backlog of Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) requests which currently exists at Library and Archives Canada (LAC) and the increasingly urgent need to develop an appropriate response. The Task Forces mandate, then, was to address the underlying root causes of the backlog situation by proposing systemic, innovative and durable solutions that are in line with the ATI legislation and its spirit, and are appropriate for the needs of client researchers and the nature and age of the records.

Rather than narrow in on the specific functions and activities of the Access to Information and Privacy Division (ATIP Division), the mandate quite rightly pointed to the need for a many layered solution involving all affected parties, both internal and external to LAC, and the various assignments, relationships/interactions, policies, processes, and dependencies which collectively impact on the accessibility of government information under the control of LAC. As such, the Task Force sought to move beyond band-aid solutions and, instead, addressed the accessibility of government information issue from the perspective that it was a corporate responsibility which required LAC wide solutions.

This approach is congruent with how LAC is reorienting itself as part of its transformation process. In April of 2004, the Library and Archives of Canada Act was promulgated and the preamble to the new legislation set out the institutions mission by stating, amongst other clauses, that LAC is to serve as the continuing memory of the government of Canada and its institutions. LAC therefore preserves and provides access to the archival records created by federal institutions on behalf of the government of Canada (GoC) in effect, LAC is a kind of corporate access office for the whole of government

In order to meet the objectives of the new legislation, the institution is currently reviewing all of its functions and activities. This work is being guided by the framework established in LAC Directions for Change. Making the documentary heritage of Canada known to Canadians, and facilitating access to it, were acknowledged as the key goals of LAC with access in particular being identified as the primary driver. Access was therefore viewed as being part of everyones business at LAC and all business processes were to be defined with service delivery in mind. In short, there was to be a clear focus on the client.[1]

In undertaking its work, it was only natural that the Task Force would be guided by the goals set out in Directions for Change as it was seen to be essential that its work be aligned with the future direction of the institution itself. In this sense, the immediate challenge provided by the ATIP backlog, as a specific situation, has lead to the sort of 360-degree review of the access services and processes which the institution would have wanted to undertake regardless and, as a result, the work of the Task Force could therefore be integrated into the larger transformation process.

The Current Situation

Everything that LAC is doing to improve services as part of its transformation is designed to facilitate (and thus theoretically increase) access to all its holdings of which government information is the largest component. Even without such a program of change, it is clear that the rise in activity related to research drivers such as litigation, genealogy, academic study, and personal purposes are almost naturally increasing the demand for access to government information. Further, as governments, corporations, and other associations continue to contract out work, and research complexity increases, the use of paid professional researchers as a primary client group of the institution grows ever larger.

So too does the volume of government records under its control. LAC currently has 121 kilometres of historical government textual records in its holdings. These records are primarily stored in the National Capital Region but over 20 km of regional archival records are also located in four of the eight Federal Records Centres across the country (Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Halifax). Over the past five years, these holdings have been growing at an average annual rate of 5.2 km per year in fact, the total volume of government textual records under LAC control has increased by almost 30% in this time period. This growth trend is expected to continue for some time.

A greater volume of records, wide ranging research interests, and more active clients mean ever-increasing demands to access government information.[2] In order to meet this demand, LAC provides access to government records in a number of ways:

  • Records that have previously been reviewed and/or made available to the public can be accessed on-site through a file request process, ordered through the interlibrary loan of microfilms, made available online as a result of a digitization project, or showcased through special exhibitions
  • Researchers can also submit written or telephone inquiries which may involve the consultation and copying of a limited number of records
  • Unreviewed government records must be processed by the ATIP Division prior to being made available to the public, in whole or in part, or restricted in their entirety
  • These requests can be made either formally under the ATI or Privacy legislation or through an informal access process (in both cases the provisions of the legislation are applied)
  • In some instances the creating department must also be consulted as part of the review process


Regardless of the process, the numbers are significant. In 2003/04, LAC responded to 94 032 archival reference inquiries. In this same period, 39 827 boxes of government textual records were circulated through the main reference area at 395 Wellington.[3] Of this total, 9 318 boxes required review by the ATIP Division prior to being made available to researchers.

It is clear from this breakdown that, on an ongoing basis, not all archival government records requested by users require immediate review under the provisions of the ATIP legislation although it should be noted that a large portion of the material which did not circulate through the ATIP Division would have been reviewed by them previously. However, it is obvious that the demands placed upon the division are significant. In the 2003/04 fiscal year alone the division received 954 formal requests for government information under the Access to Information Act, 2 173 formal requests under the Privacy Act and an additional 2 903 informal requests for restricted government records. In response, the division reviewed a total of 817 572 pages. In spite of this ongoing effort, as of the end of October 2004, 2 648 requests remained in the backlog.

The Task Force and its Work

The Task Force was composed of members from several organizational areas across LAC. It was guided by three advisory committees: one, the Senior Advisory Committee, composed of senior managers at LAC; the second, the User Advisory Committee, was comprised of individuals from the research community with some representing larger group interests; and a third, the Interdepartmental Advisory Committee, which included government officials from a number of federal institutions, many of whom were from high demand/use departments.

The Task Force followed a multi-track process, carrying out research on specific areas of interest which the group identified during its planning sessions. These lines of inquiry examined constituent elements of the access process within the larger understanding of how LAC provides access to government information. In order to undertake this work, members held regular roundtable meetings, conducted research, consulted with a large number of LAC staff, interviewed staff at a number of other national and sub-national archives in Canada and around the world, commissioned a process mapping exercise, and, through its two external advisory committees, consulted with users and other government departments.

The results of this effort are described below under ten main horizontal themes which individually provide a focal point on how to address the key opportunities for renewal that are essential to improve the access to information process at LAC. These themes are as follows:

  • First, Dealing with the Backlog Situation
  • Transformation
  • Policies, Procedures, and Processes
  • Informed and Supported Users
  • Improved Descriptive Practices
  • Information Management/Creator Relationship
  • Triage
  • Processes for the Release of Government Information
  • Risk Management
  • Increased Understanding of Demand
  • Human Resources


Main Findings

The corporate memory of the Government of Canada, as captured in LACs holdings, is one of the key pieces of our documentary heritage (in that the records help to document how we have evolved as a society and a country) but, as the existence of the current backlog illustrates, it has become increasingly clear that we must develop improved ways to facilitate access to these important records. This report hopes to contribute to this analysis. It proceeds from a discussion of the philosophical underpinnings of the new institution and the importance of the transformation process (i.e., access as the primary driver with a clear focus on the client) to providing recommendations on the action steps necessary to achieve this vision. It begins, however, with a short discussion on more immediate objectives.

First, Dealing with the Backlog Situation

Over the course of its deliberations, it became clear to the Task Force that the essentially macro changes being considered would not, and could not, provide immediate relief to the current backlog of requests at LAC in a way that would be satisfying to users. The Task Force believes that the current backlog is damaging to LACs credibility and that it is an impediment to its ability to institute fundamental change in the way it provides access to government information, and that a short-term plan for attacking the large number of unprocessed requests should be put in place.[4]

The implementation of such a plan would not be without larger benefit. For example, any suggested strategy or individual solution should encompass mechanisms to gather information about the make up or nature of the backlog with the idea of using the data to inform our knowledge of the ATIP process, current research interests, et cetera and thus possibly contribute to the development of specific tools and/or other ongoing modifications to current LAC operational processes.[5] It is also recommended that any such strategy should acknowledge, where possible, the revised environment / framework / approaches set out later in this report and thus provide a means through which to validate some of the Task Forces findings.[6]


1. The Task Force recommends that Management Board identify and commit the necessary resources so that a short-term strategy for the elimination of the existing backlog of access to information and privacy requests can be developed and implemented as soon as possible.

However, reducing the backlog through a significant, and unsustainable, infusion of resources can only provide temporary relief. Releasing records through the application of ATIP legislation on a file-by-file basis is the most resource intensive means of providing access to government information under the control of LAC. The Task Force believes that more durable solutions can only be effected by making significant improvements to all areas which impact upon the access process.

It will become obvious that many of the changes suggested by the Task Force are strongly interrelated. These overlaps are seen as a strength as they speak to/reflect the complex nature of how access to government information services truly works. As a result, it is clear that success on this file will require a common and sustained effort across the institution and externally through key partners. Given this understanding, the Task Force believes that there would be great benefit in establishing some form of governance structure to help coordinate operational efforts across LAC.

2.   The Task Force recommends that Management Board assign clear responsibility to oversee and coordinate across LAC the implementation of the Task Forces approved findings.

Transformation

The work of the Task Force has focussed, where possible, on the need for system-wide strategies to meet the challenge of providing increased levels of access to ever increasing volumes of government records. The success of such an approach requires that all players involved in the access process have a clear and common understanding of what the institution wants to achieve, how it wants to get there, their individual roles and responsibilities and, especially, how the interfaces with other players work. Improved access cannot be achieved in the context of organizational silos.

This contextual understanding is particularly important as LAC continues with its transformation into a new type of knowledge institution. As just noted, the way we define relationships and structures directly impacts on how we undertake the task at hand and, with regard to the goal of providing increased access to our holdings, the complex intersection of different organizational elements and activities (as seen in the various lines of inquiry and the process mapping exercise) points more than ever to the need for cooperative linkages and bridges.[7]

The Task Force believes that the existing Catalytic Initiatives and other transformation related working groups provide excellent opportunities for enabling both the practical and cultural change necessary to improve accessibility and that this is a period of change which should be tied into.

3.  The Task Force recommends that ongoing strategies to ameliorate the access process build on the philosophical underpinnings of the new institution and be linked to existing transformation initiatives wherever possible.

Policy, Procedures, and Processes

It was clear from the beginning of the groups discussions that LAC did not have a common understanding of the overall access system particularly with regard to where specific interfaces between different organizational elements impacted on the provision of records to users and it was decided early on to initiate a process mapping exercise.

The process mapping exercise was an invaluable part of the Task Forces work. Among its many findings, it revealed the urgent need to develop a LAC wide standard operating procedure pertaining to the release of government information. This document must focus on the high-level interactions necessary to provide access to government records and should encompass such attributes as clarifying organizational and individual roles and responsibilities, acknowledging necessary dependencies while streamlining unnecessarily burdensome or inefficient activities, and establishing a common vocabulary which is shared by all constituents. This effort should be informed by the work of such transformation initiatives as the Reference Implementation Team and the Service Delivery Transformation Catalytic Initiative, in order to ensure that it conforms with these initiatives and thus retains the clear focus on the client which guides their work.

4.   The Task Force recommends that LAC develops and implements corporate level policies and guidelines to govern the processes and interactions through which it releases government information to users.

In addition to, but working within, this overall guiding framework, the ATIP Division itself needs to develop corresponding written procedures as the findings of the Task Force confirmed that, in spite of management efforts, there is currently no common or mutually understood approach to how work is undertaken and that as a result, multiple, highly individualized processes are currently operating across the division. The process mapping exercise also revealed the existence of certain bottlenecks within the identified workflows (e.g., the restriction on the number of files [5] provided to certain review officers and the fact that the ATIP Division Director alone prioritizes and assigns requests) which must be addressed.

The Task Force therefore believes that the work of the process mapping exercise should form the basis for a review of how the day-to-day internal work of the division takes place. The review should encompass workflow, tasking/responsibilities, and the skill mix required to improve both efficiency and effectiveness. This analysis, and subsequent reengineering, must involve both managers and staff, and should lead to the development of a procedures manual which codifies not only the revised workflow processes but also how specific tasks and review work are to be undertaken by all ATIP Division staff. Ultimately, any future review of the resources allocated to the ATIP Division should be made on the basis of the new reengineered model, taking into account the other improvements put in place across LAC to better manage access to government records.

5.   The Task Force recommends that the ATIP Division develops and implements an internal procedures manual as part of a review of its workflow and processes.

Finally, the group believes that it is important to recognize the importance of using existing IT applications to their full benefit. Part of the impact of this issue relates to understanding demand which is discussed below, but it was also felt that the integration of existing ATIP Division IT tools as part of the planned IT architecture for LAC was essential to how ATIP requests should be processed and that the importance of this was perhaps not currently being recognized. As such, the Task Force suggests that the application, use, and integration of existing ATIP Division IT systems be examined as part of recommendation 5 - with the understanding that this examination take place within the context of the current LAC redesign of its systems to manage and provide access to information.

6.   The Task Force recommends that the full benefits of existing or planned IT solutions be brought to bear on how access to government records is managed across the institution.

Informed and Supported Users

As the work of the Task Force progressed, one concept that consistently emerged through the work of individual members, and consultation with our users, was the idea of the informed consumer. This basic economics analogy resonated with the group for a number of reasons. One immediate attraction was the belief that a well-informed user would contribute to the submission of better structured/more precise file requests and that such improvements would focus ATIP Division efforts on the review records that are truly useful to researchers and not, as is often the case, on unnecessary reviews. Secondly, the User Advisory Group indicated that the access process remained unclear to many researchers and that some frustrations arose simply through not knowing the status of their request or how it would be processed.

With these understandings in mind, the Task Force has suggested a number of ways in which this situation can be improved. Primary among these are the following:

Access codes: the Task Force discovered that the information provided to users about the existing access status of government records was often inconsistent and sometimes even contradictory. Specifically, the current practice of providing users with access codes linked to the container rather than the file level needs to be changed as soon as possible.[8] Other important areas to be addressed include:

  • User/system requirements related to access considerations have already been communicated to the AMICAN Catalytic Initiative (primarily through the Integrated Archival Description System sub-group). This initial work must be followed up on.
  • Container level access codes which are part of the Record Group descriptions found in MIKAN must be reviewed (and regularly updated) so that they are consistent with the information found in Trakker.
  • The inputting of data from paper/legacy ATIP Division file review sheets into AMICAN should be investigated.


Outreach: The Task Force believes that LAC needs to develop and implement a robust outreach program designed to educate users on how to conduct research using government information in general (and records in particular) and, subsequently, how to access them under ATIP legislation if necessary. It is also important to work directly with the academic community (given the issue of grant and/or dissertation deadlines) to raise awareness of the link between the choice of some research topics (e.g., national security issues) and the potential impact that access restrictions will have on project timelines.

Coordination of the development and implementation of this plan will be required to ensure consistency in the products at all points of client interface (online, in person, by telephone, etc.) and to ensure the integration of ongoing client feedback. This outreach program could include, but is not limited to, updating the information on the LAC website, direct outreach through professional associations (conferences/journals), research orientation sessions/courses, ad hoc presentations, pamphlets, et cetera.

Finally, there is an immediate need to communicate Task Force findings and subsequent progress updates to the research community, and this messaging should be consistent with the long-term goals of an outreach strategy. The members of the User Advisory Group indicated a strong willingness to participate in these sorts of activities and seem prepared to help facilitate the dissemination of access related information whenever possible.

7.   The Task Force recommends that LAC undertakes to improve the quality and consistency of the specific access related information it provides to users and develops the tools necessary to provide researchers with a better understanding of both the research and access processes.

Improved Descriptive Practices

The need to improve LACs descriptive practices as they relate to government records essentially supplements the above findings in that it directly contributes to well structured/more precise file requests. The Task Force believes that the processes and tools through which we currently capture information about our holdings, and subsequently present/provide it to our users, are inadequate and are thus in need of revision. Aspects of this failure have been referred to by some as the accessibility gap.

Work on this front is already underway in the form of the Government Archives Divisions Accessibility Management Committee (and its Finding Aid sub-group) and, partly as a result of this work, the Government Archives Division (GAD) has recently undertaken steps (in concert with the Intellectual Management Office) to begin the process of significantly reengineering its descriptive practices. There is no doubt that these efforts will require the investment/reallocation of staff time and resources, but it is equally clear that the impact of large scale improvements in this area would be of considerable benefit across the institution in general and to users in particular.

Other discrete projects have also already been initiated new GAD finding aid procedures have recently been completed, the backlog of finding aids needing review by the ATIP Division has been eliminated, and the conversion of existing paper finding aids into automated ones (strategically selected from high use Record Groups) remains an ongoing priority in the Government Archives Division.

8.   The Task Force supports the development of the new Government Archives Divisions accessibility strategy for government records and recommends that access and privacy considerations be included as a required component of that exercise.

Information Management / Creator Relationship

As noted in the introduction, the Task Force undertook to examine the access issue from a macro point of view essentially proceeding from the point of a records creation to its subsequent secondary use by LAC clients. Proceeding from this perspective allowed the group to look at LACs relationship with both individual creator departments and the GoC Information Management community as a whole. For example, part of the strategy to ameliorate descriptive tools and practice at LAC will be to work with creating departments in order to ensure that the appropriate/necessary metadata is not only being created but is transferred with those records which have been identified as being archival.

More importantly, LAC is, to a great degree, alone among the major western archives consulted by the Task Force in that almost all government records which it acquires are determined to be closed until reviewed, even when such records may have been previously deemed to be open by the creating department. The Task Force believes that it is imperative for LAC to increasingly manage the point at which the access status of records is determined upstream that is, while the records are still with the creating department/agency - rather than downstream (i.e., post acquisition or, even later, at the review stage).[9]

The Task Forces Interdepartmental Advisory Group not only agreed that such a change would be logical/beneficial (Foreign Affairs Canada already undertakes just such a review), they further indicated that LAC should be more assertive in requiring that this work be done by records creators. These observations speak to the need to examine how LAC develops, and ultimately enforces, its transfer protocols possibly through revisions to existing agreements (utilized by the Government Archives Division as part of the Records Disposition Authority process) or even more formal mechanisms such as the establishment of regulations under the provisions of the LAC Act.

What must be acknowledged is the fact that LAC essentially serves as a corporate shop for the government of Canada in that it is providing public access to government information on behalf of all government institutions which create records. As such, there should be a shared interest in how the system works and what solutions are required when inefficiencies arise. For example, given long retention periods (records transferred to the care and control of LAC are, on average, 20 years old at the time of transfer), records under the control of LAC clearly have a greatly diminished sensitivity. Continuing to treat 40 year old records as if they were six months old is not only inefficient, it flies in the face of the principles underpinning Canadas access to information legislation. With the ongoing collaboration of creator departments we can take a much more sophisticated/intelligent approach to the release of government information appreciating, of course, that one size does not fit all.[10]

In this regard, it is important to note that LAC is already involved in a number of specific initiatives which will increasingly support this new approach. Through such projects/programs as the Government Records Appraisal and Disposition Program, RDIMS, GoC metadata strategies, and the Digital Collections Catalytic Initiative, LAC is well placed to work directly with records creators to ensure that access metadata is transferred as part of the acquisition process particularly as we move forward into the E-record environment.

There remains, however, a significant legacy of paper records waiting to be transferred to LAC and it is critical that the Government Archives Division and Regional Operations work with the creating departments to facilitate the transfer of descriptive and/or access related metadata as these records come up for disposition.

9.   The Task Force recommends that as LAC continues to play a lead role in IM initiatives across the GoC, it must work specifically to ensure that ATIP / accessibility issues form part of the larger IM agenda, and that it redoubles efforts to communicate with creators about the diminished sensitivity of records once they are transferred to LAC custody and control.

Triage

The Task Force is of the view that it is important for LAC to continue to implement robust and iterative triage strategies designed not only to facilitate the access process directly but ultimately decrease the demand placed upon ATIP Division by promoting (within the scope of the legislation) the proactive identification of easily reviewed government records at the point of acquisition and/or by working within the reference and file review phases (and thus directly with the client) to help eliminate the need to review files which are not directly pertinent to the research inquiry.

Specific observations include:

  • A general need to have all staff involved in the larger access process undergo ATIP awareness training so as to increase their ability to contribute to triage strategies/activities
  • Investigate the desirability of establishing, or otherwise encouraging, pools of subject expertise within the ATIP Division so as to facilitate the matching of subject specialists with the appropriate requestors
  • Reference and Genealogy Division: establish procedures which allow the ATIP Division to integrate with the new reference model and QMS system when and where they would be most effective
  • Government Archives Division: provide contextual information on new acquisitions/finding aids to the ATIP Division so as to facilitate their review under ATIP legislation and/or their identification as candidates for block review
  • Circulation: relocate initial container level triage out of the ATIP Division so that Circulation is responsible for releasing code 90 files found within code 32 containers
  • ATIP Division: continue to develop and implement a multi-track request process that facilitates the timely processing of simple and/or small requests and diverts difficult or voluminous requests to a separate stream
  • ATIP Division: develop and implement an iterative triage process that engages the researcher at multiple stages of their request ideally through a single, consistent contact
  • ATIP Division: work with the Government Archives Division to explore the possibility of appropriately sharing researcher information in order to facilitate the consultation process this could include such mechanisms as asking for their consent on the order form
  • Service Delivery Transformation Catalytic Initiative: explore the means to promote client autonomy in the management of requests (e.g., ability to amend, cancel, prioritize)


10.   The taskforce recommends that LAC continues to develop and implement triage processes which facilitate the access process wherever possible and ultimately decrease the demand placed upon the ATIP Division.

Processes for the Release of Government Information

The Task Force also examined specific mechanisms which would provide more effective access to records. Among a number of recommendations, the following are highlighted:

  •  Review and address issues related to the use of section 8(2) of the Privacy Act by LAC, with particular regard to:

        An examination of when and how to best utilize the 8(2) provisions
        Streamlining the process for access to personal information using 8(2)
        Subsequent uses of personal information released pursuant to 8(2)
        Decision-making and the delegation of authority when using 8(2)

  • The current process of authorizing departmental researchers (in particular the increased use of contract researchers) is cumbersome and must be revised. This review should focus on establishing a LAC controlled process which is both streamlined yet flexible enough to meet the needs of all client departments and agencies
  • The more active/strategic use of special disclosure mechanisms for research purposes should be investigated further. Based upon examples already in place across the government of Canada and in other jurisdictions (e.g., researcher agreements), these mechanisms have the potential to significantly facilitate, and thus encourage, use while at the same time decreasing the need for line-by-line review by the ATIP Division.[11]


11.   The Task Force recommends that the improvements to various access mechanisms identified by the Task Force be refined and implemented.

Risk Management

The access process is a complex environment and the growing volume and diversity of government records under the control of LAC, combined with increasing demand by users, only adds to the challenges faced by the institution. The Task Force is of the view that these challenges require the institution to incorporate a greater degree of managed risk directly into the access to information process. As mentioned earlier, it is clear that the relative age of the government records under the control of LAC contributes to a greatly diminished sensitivity with regard to most of our holdings (while recognizing that the impact of the Privacy Act remains for some records). In fact, LAC holds many records created by government institutions which no longer even exist. What is equally clear, however, is that this reduced risk has not yet been fully assimilated into our operational understandings.

The Task Force has sought to remedy this situation by recommending that LAC examine a number of ways to decrease the need for line-by-line review by the ATIP Division. These include the increased use of special disclosure mechanisms such as researcher agreements, and the incorporation of a more robust block review program. Properly managed, each of these suggestions has the potential to significantly facilitate access to government information without exposing the institution to an undue degree of risk.

The Task Force strongly believes that LAC needs to develop, and implement, a corporate risk management framework for the provision of access to government information under its control. This risk management exercise should include a clear accountability framework, an analysis of risks and assessment of corresponding tolerance levels, the development of mitigating strategies and an action plan that would include both mechanisms to incorporate risk management into operational decision-making and the need for ongoing communication with stakeholders.

Fortunately some of this work is already underway as part of the new corporate risk management plan and is scheduled to be finished in the fall of 2005.

12.   It is recommended that a risk management framework for access to government information under the control of LAC be developed and implemented as part of the corporate risk management plan currently being coordinated by the Corporate Services Branch.

Increased Understanding of Demand

In order to properly develop a client focussed access model it is essential to have a strong understanding of who the client is and what it is that they want. The Task Force believes that LAC must continue to develop an improved monitoring system which would permit an increased corporate understanding of the nature of the access system in general and ATIP requests in particular.

Existing statistical profiles prepared by the ATIP Division are primarily designed to provide the statistics necessary for internal performance measurements/tracking or external reporting requirements (i.e., the Information Commissioner and Parliament). As such, the current divisional system, ATIPflow, is not being fully utilized and there is great potential for increased strategic/operational use. As a result, the Task Force is of the view that it is necessary for LAC to invest in the ATIPflow platform as an important source of access related information and that it must integrate the system into the larger suite of user focussed systems (e.g., QMS and Trakker) so as to permit increasingly comprehensive corporate profiles related to users and demand.

The work of the group therefore focussed on determining which statistical elements were important, how they could be captured, and what adjustments to current systems would be necessary. An analysis of the current information in ATIPflow was conducted and different information profiles were prepared. The Task Force concluded that there was a significant need for reporting tools which would:

  • aid in the identification of block review projects i.e., establishing a link between the types of records commonly requested and the exemptions applied to them
  • provide specific information on high use records so as to allow for the production of specialized guides and/or proactive review project
  • allow for the production of individual departmental profiles i.e., for use as aids in the negotiation of access/consultation protocols
  • permit the aggregation and use of necessary statistics for inclusion in user studies, planning documents and/or other corporate reports


13.   The Task Force recommends that LAC puts in place mechanisms to provide statistical and other information profiles related to demand in order to permit the establishment of baseline indicators and allow for the development of such tools as trend analysis reports, specialized guides, and block review projects.

Human Resources

LAC is an institution of information professionals working together. However, the ATIP Division staff increasingly seem to be working in a silo environment. The Task Force believes that as LAC restructures the way in which it works, it is critical that the staff of the ATIP Division be better integrated into the institutions larger community of information management professionals. Such an understanding requires that LAC undertake to identify and assess the competencies and skill mix required by the division in relation to other positions, roles, and responsibilities within the larger organization.

By linking a program of HR renewal to the LAC wide restructuring of work and work processes, it should be possible to better identify how we wish to recruit and retain ATIP Division staff, provide increased opportunities for them to learn new skills, and develop recognizable career opportunities/paths which are complementary to the goals of the new institution. While a certain stability is desirable within the ATIP Division, the movement of staff in and out of the division would contribute to a better understanding of the requirements of ATIP legislation across the institution, facilitate the working of the various organizational interfaces which contribute to the access process, and allow for the increased transfer of content knowledge and expertise to ATIP Division staff.

14.   The Task Force recommends establishing the mechanisms necessary to better integrate the ATIP function and staff into the larger community of information professionals both at LAC and across the Government of Canada as a whole.

Conclusion

In approaching the challenge set out in its mandate, the Task Force focussed on the key direction provided through the words systemic and durable. It therefore sought to move beyond quick fix/patch work solutions and, instead, addressed the accessibility of government information issue from the perspective that it was a corporate responsibility which required, at minimum, LAC wide solutions and, in some instances, GoC wide ones.

As has already been noted, some of the work which will directly contribute to improvements in the access process is already underway. Obviously more needs to be done and we believe that our findings provide direction for ongoing enhancements. It is critical that the backlog situation be addressed quickly and that clients see an immediate improvement in service levels. It is equally important, however, that the momentum on all the suggested long-term improvements be maintained and that progress on the file continues to be monitored. Providing access to Canadians is at the heart of our mission at LAC. We will be judged, and indeed the government of Canada will be judged, by how well we fulfill this undertaking.

The Task Force would like to express their appreciation to all staff in LAC who kindly made themselves available to us over the course of this project (often on short notice) and thus contributed greatly to its findings. The Task Force would also like to thank the members of our User and Interdepartmental Advisory Groups who provided much insight and many recommendations as a result of their participation.

We hope that our report meets the challenge outlined in our mandate and that it will provide a blueprint for the systemic and durable change that we believe is necessary to move the access agenda forward.



[1] It is at once obvious that a severe ATIP backlog and very frustrated clients are hardly compatible with the goals of the new institution.

[2] In a 2002 online survey, 61% of the then National Archives users surveyed indicated that they had consulted government textual records.

[3] An additional 800 metres of records were circulated to researchers at the Government Archives Division (GAD) Vancouver Office.

[4] Unlike other recommendations found in this report (which were developed with a resource neutral environment in mind) it is understood that the necessary res/ capacity to undertake this activity would represent an additional cost to LAC. The group is of the view that this one-time investment / expense is unavoidable.

[5] There are many additional insights which could be derived from such a process. Work on the backlog will provide an excellent opportunity to bring together Government Archives Division archivists and ATIP Division analysts as part of the planning and review processes and thus help to evaluate the future benefits of such synergies; specific information about the impact of mandatory consultation on the ATIP process at LAC could be gleaned through an analysis of which requests must be referred to other government departments and why; statistical profiles of certain Record Groups and their subsets (i.e., series and/or file blocks) could be prepared and analyzed as part of developing new descriptive tools or block review strategies; et cetera.

[6] For example, the impact of triage strategies could be evaluated by contacting researchers who have large or multiple requests in the backlog with the aim of focussing or otherwise narrowing their request(s).

[7] The fact that the work of the Task Force took place during a period of organizational transformation, when many of these factors were being redefined, provided the opportunity to examine access to government information services within a new client-centred context, but it also set out the challenge of trying to make recommendations within an evolving environment.

[8] LAC uses a series of code numbers to identify the access status of files and/or containers. Code 90 indicates that the file and/or container is open and that the record(s) are available for consultation without review or restriction. Code 32 indicates that the file or container is restricted and that it must be reviewed in accordance with the provisions of the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act before being made available for research. Please see http://www.collectionscanada.ca/02/02010504_e.html for a complete guide to the use of access codes at LAC.

[9] Consultations with other jurisdictions (national level institutions in the United States, UK, and Australia) also strongly supported the efficacy of this approach.

[10] It is critical that this understanding be recognized and drive not only our approach to such issues as mandatory consultation requirements but, even more importantly, inform above efforts to have departments take a stronger role in determining downstream access.

[11] Recommendations 8-7 and 8-8 of the Access to Information Review Task Force speak to similar conclusions. Please see Access to Information Review Task Force, Access to Information: Making it Work for Canadians, p 137-139.

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