Managing electronic records across organizational boundaries: the experience of the Belgian federal government in automating investigation processes

Odile Vanreck, Bénédicte Losdyck, Cécile De Terwangne, Fiona Aranguren Celorrio, Laurence Maroye, Sébastien Soyez, Seth van Hooland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to critically examine the reasons behind the relatively poor level of implementation of e-services. To this end, records management procedures in a particular Belgian federal administration – the Belgian Federal Public Service (FPS) Employment, Labor and Social Dialogue – will be studied. Based on this concrete and relevant case study, the authors examine how cross-organizational differences in terms of the implementation speed of digital workflows can hinder the development of innovative e-services. By doing so, the authors raise relevant questions about the efficacy of digital workflows and work processes. The impact on the consultation and exchange of government records among public services and toward citizens will be examined as well.
Design/methodology/approach

In the context of an on-going four-year research project named HECTOR (Hybrid Electronic Curation, Transformation and Organization of Records), the study is conducted from an interdisciplinary approach, closely combining information sciences and law. Moreover, this approach also has implications on information sciences through the integration of archival principles at an early stage of conception of hybrid (paper-based and digital-based) records management strategies, instead of confining archivists to a depository and preservation role. This “integrated archival” approach is highly encouraged to anticipate best practices for the long-term preservation of records (Rousseau and Couture, 1994). Furthermore, the project adopts a bottom-up approach based on an exploratory analysis of the particularities of hybrid records management within a project called “e-PV” led by the FPS Employment, Labor and Social Dialogue to draw general conclusions that could eventually be applied to other public services. In this case study, standardized surveys were used to collect information from a manager perspective, followed by in-depth interviews with field workers.
Findings

The miscellaneous reasons for the aforementioned poor level of implementation are a continuously decreasing public budget, a strongly rooted resistance to change, the difficult but inevitable cross-organizational relations between public administrations, the legal uncertainties arising from a fast-changing digital environment and the political autonomy in the decision-making process of the different public entities. As a consequence, the substantial differences between the many public administrations lead to a lack of interoperability not only at a technical level but also at an organizational level. The many local and other non-connected initiatives that this situation has generated do not help fostering collaboration either. The absence of well-established records management policies is interpreted both as a cause and a consequence of some of the factors mentioned before.
Research limitations/implications

Research is carried out within Belgium’s particularly complex administrative context, where competences are not only spread but also shared at multiple levels (national and regional) and in multiple domains (legislative and executive). Consequently, the political decision-making process is also highly complex. Nevertheless, the observations and the findings of the study are deemed to be applicable to any administrative structure (both national and international ones).
Originality/value

This paper outlines the constraints of an almost completely implemented eGovernment initiative which may guide other public administrations in the development of their own e-services, as well as showing them the importance of taking into account records management and archiving principles. The multidisciplinary approach represents a significant added value.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-83
Number of pages15
JournalRecords Management Journal
Volume27
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Keywords

  • Access
  • Automation
  • Records management
  • Social fraud
  • Social penal code
  • eGovernment

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