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May 19 2019

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JUST LAUNCHED: Records Management Improvement Toolkit Online and Updated

We are delighted to announce the launch of our new and updated online toolkit to help charities, voluntary and community groups with records management. Record keeping is an important but often overlooked part of running a voluntary organisation. It is vital for good governance and necessary for complying with the wide range of regulations that apply to charities in England and Wales.

The toolkit is aimed at anyone with responsibility for records in a voluntary or community organisation. It includes:

  • A self assessment questionnaire to help you find out how you are doing at record keeping
  • A colour coded assessment of existing practice and the actions you need to take for improvement
  • Resources and guidance for implementing your improvement plan
  • Handy tables to help you identify relevant records, regulation and issues where records management can help your charity

Good record keeping can provide evidence of how an organisation has made decisions over time, thereby demonstrating good governance. It can make day-to-day work more efficient and make it easier to show the impact of an organisation. In addition to showing compliance with key regulations, good record keeping can also build trust with donors, funders, regulators, the public and other stakeholders.

We have designed this toolkit because many organisations, especially small and medium sized ones, may find it hard to know quite what the state of their records is. There is a lack of advice, training and knowledge about record keeping and a bewildering array of different regulatory requirements. The toolkit does not assume that you can immediately put in place a perfect system for managing records and information. Instead, it offers you some tools and guidance to help you continually improve your practices, policies and processes

You can access the toolkit via this link: toolkit.voluntarysectorarchives.org.uk

The toolkit was originally developed in partnership with support of Charity Finance Group and funded by a UCL Public Policy small grant. We welcome feedback and suggestions in our attempts to further refine the toolkit. Please get in touch via our contact us page.

Four things academics can do to help preserve charity archives

This week’s new that the Black Cultural Archives is to receive £200,000 stop-gap funding from government is a moment to celebrate, although the organisation’s future is far from secure. This results from a wide community campaign of support, including an important letter from MPs Helen Hayes and Chukka Umunna to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport that was backed by over 100 parliamentarians. But academics played a part too. The Social History Society wrote a letter, as did the Records at Risk steering group, and we know of a number of behind-the-scenes interventions from learned societies which all had an impact.

After much work over the past few years in developing tools and guidance for voluntary organisations (watch this space in 2019 for some new announcements), we have recently turned our attention to ensuring greater advocacy for archives. For example, we are part of a newly formed Records at Risk steering group, which is ‘an independent advisory body for England and Wales in liaison with the other regions of the United Kingdom that will consider and co-create with The National Archives (TNA) appropriate steps to better manage the risks and challenges faced by vulnerable archive collections’. We also think academics from across the disciplines can do much more to help records at risk. In light of this we would like to offer our university-based friends and colleagues some suggestions of four things they can do to promote the use and preservation of the archives of voluntary organisations.

  1. Write money for archives into grant proposals – we should not be relying on voluntary and community organisations to be able to facilitate access to records in the same way as more formal repositories can. Contact organisations well in advance of your research and have an open discussion about what you need to see and what it will cost them – this could be costed staff time to enable access or funds to support preservation, cataloguing or digitisation. Such financial support can help demonstrate the value of archives to senior management or trustees within an organisation.
  2. Draw up a written memorandum of understanding between you or your project and the organisation(s) whose archive you hope to use, such ethical best practice protects both parties and helps maintain a good relationship. It should cover details such as access, ethics, intellectual property rights, copyright and outputs.
  3. Disseminate guidance – do you come across organisations that might benefit from learning more about record keeping and archiving policy and practice? Direct them to our resources, to TNA’s extensive guidance or to specialist resources provided by Charity Finance Group for instance.
  4. Champion the archive collections you have used – let trustees, staff or volunteers know about your research, write a blog or item in a newsletter, offer to do a talk for the organisation. The archives of voluntary and community organisations have a unique social value, and academic researchers can be vital intermediaries in sharing that with a wider public.

Charlotte Clements and Georgina Brewis

Filling in the blanks: Why charities must take records management seriously

Getting my records has filled in blanks as I had lived a life of non-existence, I had nothing of my past, nothing was there, it was empty.

This eloquent testimony from a care leaver in 2013 was shared by the keynote speaker at the launch on 15 June 2017 of Records Management in Charities: A Toolkit for Improvement. Bruno Longmore of National Records Scotland made a powerful case that that all organisations – whether in the public, private or voluntary sectors – need to take records management seriously.

Voluntary organisations, however, face particular challenges in this area. Record keeping is vital for good governance and necessary for complying with the wide range of regulations that apply to voluntary organisations in England and Wales. However, many organisations find it hard to know quite what the state of their records is and what do to with them. There is a lack of advice, training and knowledge about record keeping and a bewildering array of different regulatory requirements.

With funding from a UCL Public Policy grant, I was very pleased to be able to form a new partnership with Charity Finance Group, the charity that champions best practice in finance management in the voluntary sector, in order to come up with some practical new support for charities in this area. The toolkit was researched and written by Charlotte Clements, who successfully navigated the complex worlds of records management and charity law to create a practical toolkit that should be of real value to anyone with responsibility for a charity’s records – whether paid staff, volunteers or trustees.

Children’s charities in particular have needed to do a lot of work around records management in recent years, as part of a national change in culture that now views record keeping as critical to guaranteeing the rights of citizens. Adults seeking information about their own histories, relatives looking to find those who were forcibly migrated to Canada or Australia and police compiling evidence in criminal cases against child sexual abusers, for instance, may all require access to such archives. In such cases good record keeping can help a charity assist with enquiries and provide evidence of decision making and the implementation of appropriate policies and procedures. In Scotland, it was a review of historical abuse in children’s homes and residential schools (the 2007 Shaw Report) that led to new legislation in the form of the Public Records (Scotland) Act, 2011.

In light of these developments, The National Archives’ recently published new strategy Archives Unlocked places an unprecedented emphasis on the importance of records for public trust, openness and accountability. This is not just about being able to fill in the blanks in personal stories, indeed the investigation into the horrific Grenfell Tower disaster is likely to rely on good record keeping in order to be able to hold organisations and individuals to account.

We launched the toolkit at the British Academy on 15 June, where audience members were able to pose questions to an expert panel made up of records managers and archivists from leading charities, including Barnardo’s, the Children’s Society and Blind Veterans, as well as from the British Records Association.

The toolkit takes the form of a self-assessment tool and set of guidance to implement an improvement plan. Far from assuming that a perfect system for managing records and information can be implemented straight away, the toolkit recognises that continuous improvement of an organisation’s practices, policies and processes will be needed. We will be publishing the toolkit as a series of interactive web pages later this summer.

Do get in touch with me at [email protected] if you would like to find out more about this work.

NB: A version of this blog was originally posted on the UCL Public Policy website.

Improving records management in charities – a new toolkit

What records do charities need to keep? How long should they be retained? What legislation and regulations on record keeping do charities need to comply with?

I’m very pleased to announce that our new toolkit to help charities and voluntary organisations improve records management will be launched on 15 June 2017 at the British Academy. It is with some relief that we have just sent the final text off to the designers.

Record keeping is an important but often overlooked part of running or working in a voluntary organisation. It is vital for good governance and necessary for complying with the wide range of regulations that apply to voluntary organisations in England and Wales. However, many organisations find it hard to know quite what the state of their records is and what do to with them. There is a lack of advice, training and knowledge about record keeping and a bewildering array of different regulatory requirements.

This new toolkit was researched and written by the project’s Research Associate Charlotte Clements in partnership with colleagues at Charity Finance Group. Charlotte has done an amazing job in navigating the complex worlds of records management and charity law to create an accessible, readable toolkit that should be of real value to anyone with responsibility for a charity’s records. Charlotte tested and refined the toolkit in a series of focus groups organised with Charity Finance Group, and over 50 people have given feedback and comments.

The toolkit takes the form of self-assessment tools and guidance to implement an improvement plan. Far from assuming that a perfect system for managing records and information can be implemented straight away, the toolkit recognises that continuous improvement of an organisation’s practices, policies and processes will be needed.

We were very pleased to win a UCL Public Policy Engagement Grant last year to fund this work, which is an off-shoot of our on-going work around voluntary sector archives. The new toolkit complements the draft guidance on archiving for voluntary organisations which we are currently also developing.

Records Management in Charities: A Toolkit for Improvement takes the form of self-assessment tools and set of guidance to implement an improvement plan. It does not assume that a perfect system for managing records and information can be implemented straight away. Instead, it offers tools and guidance to help continuous improvement of an organisation’s practices, policies and processes. In due course we will make the toolkit available to complete online.

If this sounds of interest and you would like a free print copy, we still have a few places remaining to attend our launch event at the British Academy next week (15 June 2017, 4-6pm). The event features a keynote address from Bruno Longmore of National Records Scotland on what Scotland can teach us. You can ask questions from our expert panel on voluntary sector records management and this will be followed by a drinks reception. You can now find a pdf of the toolkit on our resources pages and we will be publishing it as interactive web pages later this summer.

Responsible record keeping for the voluntary sector: new funding announcement!

As part of the work of the British Academy Research Project ‘Digitising the Mixed Economy of Welfare in Britain’ we have championed the rich cultural heritage held in voluntary sector archives. However, doing this work made us aware that there is much work to be done with organisations which do not want to, or perhaps cannot undertake these kind of projects. Their archives are important too, as Project Director Georgina Brewis explained in a blog for NCVO.

There is an urgent need to use voluntary sector archives and records to support good governance and risk management. Against the backdrop of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, the failure of high profile charities (e.g. Kids Company in 2015) and the introduction of a new Fundraising Regulator in 2016, there is a growing urgency for voluntary organisations to put in place more robust archiving and records management policies.

There are three main reasons why voluntary organisations need to undertake responsible record keeping as part of their current work:

  • to meet legal and regulatory requirements;
  • to protect the reputation of the voluntary sector;
  • to safeguard organisations from the risk of fraud.

Existing guidance is piecemeal and the voluntary sector is subject to a range of regulatory pressures from different areas, including the Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP) governing accountancy, Data Protection, Freedom of Information and the Charity Commission. With the current consultation on the information collected in the Charity Commission Annual Return, which runs until early March 2017, now is a good time to think about the data held in voluntary organisations.

We are delighted to announce a new partnership to address these issues between the British Academy Research Project ‘Digitising the Mixed Economy of Welfare in Britain’ based at UCL Institute of Education and Charity Finance Group (CFG). This partnership, supported by funding from a UCL Public Policy Engagement Grant will allow researchers at UCL to work with CFG to launch new guidance aimed at helping voluntary organisations to fulfil their obligations and manage risks via best practice in archives and records management.

Heather McLoughlin, Policy and Public Affairs Officer at CFG, says:

“CFG is excited to be working on such an important piece of research. Responsible record and archive keeping is a vital tool for charities who are striving for good governance. By looking after their records a charity is better placed to measure their impact, reduce the risk of fraud and understand their charitable aims. We look forward to working on guidance, with our partners at UCL, to support charities to do this important work.”

We are excited to be able to draw additional expertise from UCL into the partnership by consulting with UCL Department of Information Studies and the Special Collections and Archives team at UCL.

We are actively seeking to make contact with people who would like to be involved in this project, either because they have particular expertise to offer, or because they would like to participate in focus groups to look at the draft guidance in in Spring 2017. For more information contact Charlotte Clements: [email protected]

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This website is run by the British Academy Research Project ‘Digitising the Mixed Economy of Welfare in Britain’ a collaborative, interdisciplinary project that promotes the preservation of voluntary sector archives, which are increasingly vulnerable in a period of austerity. We see the archives and records of voluntary organisations as strategic assets for governance, corporate identity, accountability and research.

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