The live Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry and UK Covid-19 Inquiry were set up to examine Scotland’s and the UK’s responses to the Covid-19 pandemic and to learn lessons for the future. Key to the success of the Inquiries will be the quality and accessibility of the records of the multitude of decisions and actions taken by government, organisations, and individuals. The role of records managers in ensuring the integrity and availability of this evidence, almost entirely digital, to inform the Inquiries cannot be overestimated. Records, and the evidence they contain, do not manage themselves. They require the oversight of a professional for their creation and preservation. They depend on organisations having robust records management policies and systems in place to ensure that information is accurate and accessible to the appropriate people. Classification, indexing, complying with legislation and providing information and records for decision-making are the buildings blocks of good governance and best practice for organisations of all sizes, and society generally.
Effective records management is crucial to the Inquiry for a number of reasons:
Evidence: Efficient records management safeguards information relevant to the Inquiries. This provides evidence for the investigators to track and verify actions taken by organisations and individuals during the pandemic and evaluate and question their impact and effectiveness. The records created as part of the inquiries also provide evidence for future generations on how the pandemic was managed by the government and health authorities.
Accountability, Trust, Transparency: People affected by the pandemic, either directly or indirectly, have a right to know, understand, and question the actions undertaken by government and health authorities. Records held by public bodies and managed by professionals are essential to understanding what happened and who had responsibility for decision-making. Transparent decision making and well-managed records contribute to public trust. This transparency is essential for maintaining public confidence in institutions and their ability to handle crises.
Legal and Regulatory Compliance: Professional records management ensures evidence can survive to demonstrate that public sector decision making is made with regard to all relevant legislation and has the public interest in mind. This is essential to avoid legal challenges when authorities are accused of acting outside of or in contradiction to statutory requirements.
Informing Decision-Making: Properly maintained and accessible records not only provided the material to inform decision-making at the time of the pandemic but also to enable lessons to be learned and applied in the future. This is crucial for building resilience and preparedness for future public health crises.
Resource Purchasing and Allocation: Purchasing and distribution of medical supplies, particularly PPE, is a major issue for the Inquiries. Records help us understand how equipment and resources were purchased, from whom, and if they were used effectively.
In summary, records managers bring order and meaning to what would otherwise be an unmanageable swirl of emails, texts, WhatsApp messages, recordings, and documents. Without records managers and robust information governance supporting authentic and trustworthy records, the Inquiry could not guarantee accountability and a mechanism to learn from the experiences of managing a global health crisis. Without records managers, we would know nothing.
Contact: John Pelan, Director, Scottish Council on Archives