National Archives of Australia

Issue 11 July 2013

Drowning in information? Navigating the digital age through collaboration and change

In May 2013, the National Archives took part in Information Awareness Month. It was an opportunity to reflect upon the importance of collaboration and embracing change to help navigate the explosion of information in the digital age of government.

As you have your morning coffee, you check the latest on your favourite news sites, take a quick look at Facebook to see what your friends are up to, and read your email. At work, you ‘Google’, consult Wikipedia, and send and receive dozens of emails, perhaps on your smart phone or tablet. Before you go to bed at night, you check the weather ahead for the week, watch a clip on YouTube, see updates on Facebook and perhaps send a tweet or two.

Sound familiar? It will to many of us in this digital age, where information is being created and accessed at an unprecedented rate. Are we suffering from information overload? Does the sheer volume of information out there connect or alienate people? And what does this mean for organisations for which information is their ‘stock in trade’, like the National Archives?

‘Paper boy’ in Pitt St, Sydney in 1958 – an era when the daily newspaper was one of the main sources of news and information. NAA: A1200, L26805

A brave new world of connectivity

These were some of the questions Director-General of the Archives, David Fricker, raised at the launch of Information Awareness Month (IAM) in May. The theme of the month, which aims to promote the value of information more widely in the community, was ‘Connecting information and people’. The Archives joined with other archival bodies, libraries, industry experts and professional organisations in a range of events across the country, including seminars, conferences and industry showcases.

The challenges and opportunities of the digital environment were recurring themes.

‘Ours is an increasingly hyper-connected environment where people and businesses can communicate with each other immediately, and systems are equally connected’, said Mr Fricker at the launch. ‘Throw the growth of mobile devices, big data and social media into the mix and I think it’s fair to say that this brave new world of connectivity can sometimes threaten to drown us in information.’

However, Mr Fricker also highlighted the positive aspects of this digital age. He pointed to the willingness of Australians to embrace digital forms of information, with, for example, more than 2.3 million records from the Archives’ collection being accessed online in 2011–12.

David Fricker, Director-General of the National Archives. Photographer: Angus Kendon

Collaborating for the digital transition

Mr Fricker emphasised the importance of organisations working together to meet the challenges of digital information management: ‘Partnerships and collaboration are essential if we are to successfully navigate our way through the exploding growth in information and the maze of technology used to create and share it.’

He pointed to the Archives’ collaborative approach in helping Australian Government agencies make the shift to digital information management, as part of the Australian Government’s Digital Transition Policy. During Information Awareness Month, the Archives organised a one-day conference for agencies, Digital Mandate – A National Advantage, to discuss the benefits of storing and managing information digitally and to share knowledge.

Speakers at the conference included Jack Waterford, Editor-at-Large of The Canberra Times, and Australian Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick, AO, with talks covering issues such as information management and political accountability, ensuring the reliability of digital information as evidence, cyber security, and the business advantages offered by emerging technologies. A panel discussion, ‘Stories from the front line’, presented a range of case studies from agencies that have made or are making the digital transition.

Jack Waterford at the Digital Mandate conference, May 2013. Photographer: Angus Kendon

The Archives is also working with industry to encourage the development of digital information management products that can be used by the range of agencies across government. During Information Awareness Month, the Archives launched a new Industry Innovation Showcase series, which will highlight innovative information management products and services that can help with digital transition and digital continuity in the Australian Government.

Preserving our nation’s story in a digital age

During his speech at the IAM launch, Mr Fricker emphasised the Archives’ own determination to better manage and digitise the important historical records in its collection, and to provide the best possible environment in which to preserve both traditional and digital records. These records tell the story of our nation and – particularly significant in light of the theme of Information Management Month in 2013 – connect Australians with their family history and national heritage, and with the records that protect their rights and entitlements.

‘The test for the Archives is to continue to ensure that we can define, preserve and share this story in the digital age’, said Mr Fricker. ‘For all of us whose stock in trade is information, the challenge is to embrace change. It’s a challenge that, working together, we are well on the way to meeting.’

Want more?

Read the full transcript of David Fricker’s speech at the launch of Information Awareness Month

Follow @naa_digital on Twitter

Find out more about the Digital Transition Policy

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