Taxonomy and Records Management, Part 2

Continuing the exploration of taxonomy in the context of records management, I’m going to focus on the second challenge listed in my earlier post on the subject:  taxonomies and record retention schedules exist but are not being used effectively.

I worked on a records management project in which we were to create the retention schedule for one business unit as a baseline for building out the schedule as the records management initiative was rolled out to subsequent divisions. In this case, it was not that they didn’t already have a retention schedule. In fact, they had an extremely robust, thorough, and complicated schedule created by another consulting firm specializing in records management. It was so robust, thorough, and complicated that no one could figure out how to apply it, and, so, didn’t. While the retention schedule covered everything needed from a records management perspective, it was not applicable from a user’s perspective. What made sense to a records manager and to legal was not useful to the people who needed to apply it. In addition, the schedule was not enforced. No one knew what, if any, retention policies were being applied to records, leaving the organization in a similar state as prior to the creation of the records retention schedule. The solution, in this instance, was to rebuild a simplified retention schedule based on the prior work and new categorization principles to align with a corporate taxonomy.
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Taxonomy and Records Management

Taxonomies, as hierarchical vocabulary structures, clearly define relationships between words and concepts. If a taxonomy is implemented and governed properly, there is a high degree of control over how terms are added, modified, and deleted. Terms used for content tagging can also be controlled in how they are selected and applied. Similarly, records management is a discipline requiring high control over documents meeting legal compliance. An ARMA fact sheet defines records management as “the systematic control of records throughout their life cycle.”

Strangely enough, taxonomies and records management remind me of the Panopticon, a prison imagined by the English social theorist, Jeremy Bentham. Let me explain. The Panopticon is a circular architectural structure with an observer in the middle able to keep surveillance over many prisoners at one time without the prisoners knowing who was being watched at any given moment. This allowed for great control at great economy.

As a liberal with world views shaped by films of the 1980s riddled with paranoia about governmental control and espousing an anti-Orwellian future as imagined in 1984, the concept of control of any kind stirs my blood. The Panopticon could very well be the source of Tolkien’s Eye of Sauron, presented in film as aloft in a tower—a kind of all-seeing eye with a 360 degree view. However, and here’s the connection, the control of records in an organization supported by a taxonomy structure can mean the difference between being fined millions of dollars and providing information during a legal discovery process. This by simply managing which information should be retained, retrieved, and/or disposed of properly and in a timely fashion. There is the bridge between the Panopticon and taxonomy and records management; now to build the bridge between taxonomy and records management.

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