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Sources for Step A

A number of key sources can provide a good starting point to help you understand your business environment, corporate culture, stakeholders and technical infrastructure.

Documentary sources

InformationTip: Look for sources immediately relevant to your project

Try to use sources that are immediately relevant to your intended project.

For example, if a key objective of your project is to develop a business classification scheme, a retention and disposal authority and a functional thesaurus for your organisation, examine:

  • superseded thesauri
  • previous retention and disposal authorities and
  • risk assessment activities,

all of which could have immediate bearing on your project.

Internal sources

Sources generated by your organisation which may be useful include:

  • annual reports
  • organisational charts
  • strategic plans (eg corporate plans, business plans and related planning documents)
  • policies and procedures
  • your organisation's existing records, including establishment files (records that document how, why and when your organisation was created)
  • publications targeting the interests of particular stakeholders, and
  • media releases regarding the establishment and operations of your organisation.

Many of these sources may be accessible online through your organisation' s internet or intranet facilities.

InformationTip: Use of vision, mission and value statements
Vision, mission and value statements may also provide useful information for analysing corporate culture. They will help you identify the organisational goals and strategies that your project will need to fulfil or ally with.

Some of these sources can supply you with a very large amount of information about your organisation.

QuestionsExample: Annual reports

Depending on the nature of your project, annual reports can be very rich sources, providing information on the organisation's:

  • current structure and business activities
  • mission statement defining the boundaries of the organisation
  • corporate objectives that define broad functional areas and descriptions of major programs and their budgets
  • enabling legislation or other legislation which the organisation administers
  • external requirements, such as reporting arrangements
  • statistics relating to business activities
  • powers and functions as described in the publication guide required under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009
  • an organisational chart
  • structure, as represented by an organisational chart, and
  • information management and technology requirements and plans.

External sources

There are many different types of external sources that will provide important contextual information. Some of the more important sources are:

  • legislation governing your organisation's operations
  • whole-of-government legislation that affects the way your organisation carries out its unique functions (eg State Records Act 1998, Government Information(Public Access) Act 2009, Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998, Crimes Act 1900)
  • government circulars, directions, memorandums and instruments affecting the public sector
  • ministerial statements
  • reports and guidelines issued by audit, complaints-handling or other investigative bodies
  • media reports
  • letters of thanks from clients
  • letters of complaint, and
  • standards, codes of practice and protocols that are relevant to your organisation's business.

InformationTip: Access legislation online
All NSW legislation is available online. Check the Australasian Legal Information Institute databases (AustLII) or www.legislation.nsw.gov.au

State Records' Investigator database

For a concise summary of your organisation's background and current role, we would recommend checking Archives Investigator on State Records' website. This database provides information on the origins, predecessors and boundaries of the organisation, as well as its evolution over time ('administrative history'), major functions and responsibilities, and its place in the broader New South Wales Government context.

In preparing the registration, our staff will have already checked many of the official sources (including legislation, regulations, the NSW Government Gazette and annual reports), and specific citations are given. These may help you to avoid unnecessary duplication of research effort, or provide useful pointers in cases where more detail may be required.

InformationTip: Visit Investigator
Investigator can be accessed via www.investigator.records.nsw.gov.au

Interviews

A complete analysis of your organisational context will not be possible only from documentary sources. One of the most effective ways to obtain information about how your organisation functions and the requirements it has to meet is through interviews or discussion groups with appropriate staff. Interviews, particularly with long term staff, can be a way to validate aspects of your work or to gain information you cannot obtain from documentary sources. One major examination of business practices determined that, for their purposes, 'Interviews constitute, by far, the most important source of information'. [2]

If your project has an IT focus, talking with system administrators or IT managers may give you the concrete information you need to understand how business is currently conducted. Talking to staff who actually use business systems on a daily basis will give you a very hands on understanding of current systems and practices and their possible shortcomings.

You can also use interviews to help determine the list of sources you will examine in your preliminary assessment. Other people will have a range of ideas you can incorporate into your research plans. It may also be important to confirm with other staff that the sources you are using are current and of continuing relevance to your organisation.

Don't forget to consider interviewing external parties who may have a stake in how records are managed and retained. These might include staff of other government organisations, clients or contractors.

Who to interview?
  • head of agency
  • unit manager / team leader
  • staff responsible for particular business activities
  • staff who have worked in your organisation for a long time
  • records managers
  • external parties who are affected by your organisation's business or records

This manual contains some tools which can help you to manage the interview process.

See:

  • Guide to interviews
  • Sample interview questions

InformationTip: Schedule interviews effectively
You may want to obtain a large amount of information through interviews during the course of your DIRKS analysis. Given that the people you wish to interview are likely to have busy schedules, it could be beneficial to have one or two longer interviews, and discuss a number of points that may come out of your Step A, B and C research, rather than scheduling a large number of smaller meetings.

Assessments and surveys

If your DIRKS project is focussed on developing a better business system or systems, you may want to include a survey or assessment of your current technical infrastructure in your preliminary assessment.

This assessment or survey should be very general and aim to give you a good understanding of your technical environment, its capacities and limitations. This form of assessment should be teamed with a series of interviews that will enable you to talk to IT and other staff about how business systems function in your organisation.

Step D: Assessment of existing systems is concerned with undertaking a more detailed assessment of business systems, in order to identify whether they meet your recordkeeping requirements. If you go on to do Step D, you can use this early assessment to initiate your Step D work.

InformationTip: Liaise with IT staff
If your DIRKS project is likely to involve a significant technological component, it is important now to begin to liaise with IT staff and other management representatives about your ideas, if you have not already. Redeveloping business applications requires significant organisational support and the commitment of individual managers. It is never too early to start fostering this commitment.

Still confused?

If you are really stuck and do not know where to begin your Step A analysis, you could:

  • start with the Organisation Context Document, provided as part of the DIRKS Manual. This document asks a range of questions about your organisation and can be used to structure your research or give you an indication of some of the broad areas you may want to investigate in order to understand how your organisation operates.
  • start by reading your annual report. You'll find it a very rich source of information that will provide a useful overview of your organisation and its business functions. Check your library or website for a copy.

It is important not to get overwhelmed with your Step A research. Be aware that one or two key sources may provide you with the bulk of the information you need. For example, your organisation's main enabling legislation may provide an adequate summary of your business functions, your corporate plan will help you identify goals and strategies, while external standards governing the business area you are examining may provide you with the remainder of the contextual information you require.

InformationTip: Use existing research
Where possible, particularly if you are looking for a place to start, use existing research. If business process reviews, system reviews, audits or workflow analysis have been undertaken in all or in parts of your organisation, make use of this documentation as it may provide you with much of the detail you need.

Footnotes

[2] Victoria L Lemieux, ‘Let the Ghosts Speak: An Empirical Exploration of the ‘Nature’ of the Record', Archivaria, Number 51, Spring 2001, 83