The National Archives User Advisory Group Archives


banner1 SoG report of TNA User Advisory Group Meeting   a genealogist reflects

The first meeting of The National Archives User Advisory Group (TNA UAG) took place on Wednesday 22 June. Draft terms of reference were circulated and these are under discussion. The draft terms of reference have already been published and are for comment on the Society of Genealogists blog  and will presumably be available online through TNA when they are formally accepted.

The names and contact information for each representative will be published on the TNA UAG web pages  along with minutes and papers of the group’s quarterly meetings. However all the representatives have undertaken to represent, feedback to and communicate the UAG’s activities – so here goes.

The meeting’s first agenda was pretty much a case of getting to know each other (though many already did – this is very much an off-shoot of the more informal monthly users’ forum though with more users from the Map and Large Document Room and academics.) Chaired jointly by Jeff James, Director of Operations and Services and Chris Mumby, Acting Director of Customer and Business Development the meeting was set in the context of TNA’s business plan for 2011-2015 (already published online). This is scary as it shows TNA’s 2014/5 spending allocation £9m below that for 2011/12. TNA has to produce a lot more for less though Jeff and Chris are very gung ho.

Feeling suitably subdued we then looked at a very dense document relating to proposals for a User Participation Strategy – which is a technical term apparently for volunteers’ projects. We saw how prospective projects were analysed for their benefit and potential to the business of the organisation. Having gone through this process eight proposals are to be carried forward including projects to create user generated catalogue descriptive content; digitisation of images for the Caribbean and other material from the Commonwealth Office pictures and conservation projects. Having decided on these projects TNA intends to bring the User Advisory Group in to discuss methodology and approach at this “strategic” level. Though as usual, TNA is establishing a “Board” to manage (or provide governance) for the various projects.

I was amused to see how this meeting clearly showed how a group of professional civil servants have seamlessly taken on board the wishes and whims of their new political masters as I can’t tell you how many times the phrases “fits in with the Big Society etc” were bandied at his point. But TNA has always had to be pragmatic and work in the political context it finds itself and I make no criticism of civil servants doing what civil servants have to do. But it can feel a bit “Yes Minister” at times.

We then learnt more about a project to digitise and accession digital images of a subset of the Home Guards records to act as a pilot for the full Home Guard collection of 4.6 million records. The decision to access only the digital images of these documents and not the originals has been somewhat controversial. There has been public consultation about the transfer of these and three other large Ministry of Defence Collections and much discussion at higher level to get to this point (I am also on the TNA Advisory Council and contributed to the MoD consultation paper in November 2010 on behalf of the Society of Genealogists and the British Genealogical Record Users Committee). But it’s down to TNA project managers to make sure TNA does this project properly. It has to ensure the digitisation is done by a commercial partner to the standards it and its customers require. The HG records for Durham have been chosen for the pilot as it’s a small enough collection, but representative of most of the records and potential problems that might arise. The User Advisory Group will get to look at these “closed” records and comment of how they might be used and what searchable fields of data should be captured. The fields proposed are:

Name – surname and forename(s), Date of birth, Area or County, Place of Birth where given and address.

Once UAG members see the documents we might have other suggestion to add such as occupation or battalion.

I remember this same process 10 years ago with the 1901 census and I know that whatever advice we give will be tempered against what the commercial partner will consider to be practical and commercially viable. So the Advisory User Group can advise but whether this advice is heeded. in the end will be down to TNA and its partners.

The meeting concluded with TNA giving some rushed but tantalising indications of Public Service developments – British Nationality Cards will be made more readily available, Work will continue to scan and make digitally available material from film. We hear there are plans for TNA to use web chats or instant messaging – presumably as part of the advice and help services. UCL’s collection of rare books will be hosted at TNA while it is being refurbished and it’s quite likely that the London LDF Family History Centre’s collection of films and computers will also be housed at TNA while the centre closes for a 9 month refurbishment plan.

Do look out for the formal minutes of the meeting when they are published by TNA http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/get-involved/user-advisory-group.htm

I’ll keep you posted about what we learn about the Home Guard records. The next meeting of The National Archives’ User Advisory Group will be on 6 September

Technorati Tags: , , ,

The first meeting of The National Archives’ User Advisory Group is on 22 June, then four times a year thereafter.

If anyone has any issues or points they wish to raise about TNA please do not hesitate to contact Else by email genealogy@sog.org.uk, or through the comments facility on this page. Alternatively you can comment via the Society of Genealogists’ Facebook page or follow Else on twitter @SoGGenealogist

TNA has drafted the Terms of Reference for The National Archives’ User Advisory Group

The role of the User Advisory Group is to:

 Provide an opportunity for users of The National Archives to get involved in the organisations planning and decision making process at an early stage and a strategic level.

Provide an opportunity for The National Archives to seek structured advice and feedback from our user communities on specific developments and decisions, via a formal closed group, which actively represents the diverse interests, concerns and agendas of our user communities. Provide balanced and holistic representation from the diverse sections of our user community and an opportunity for dialogue between representatives of these groups. Act as a two way communications channel between The National Archives and our user communities.

Provide a voice, through representation, for users who may not be able to make use of the other engagement channels provided by The National Archives.
 

The role of the User Advisory Group is distinct from:

The role of the User Forum which is an open forum held regularly on site at The National Archives. However, it is likely that there will be links and communication channels between the 2 groups, in both directions.

Executive responsibility of The National Archives’ formal governance structure, including all of its constituent parts.
Any other consultative or advisory group or body not listed above.

Method of engagement

The User Advisory Group consists of invited delegates who represent the following sections of our user community:
On site, personal interest researchers
Independent (paid) researchers
Academic researchers
Researchers based primarily in the Map and Large Document Reading Room
Researchers interested in the diversity / inclusion / access agenda
County / external archives
Genealogy / family history societies
Online users (Initially, on site users will be represented by a member of The National Archives’ staff. During 2011 – 2012, we will be running a formal work stream to improve opportunities for engagement with online users).

The National Archives commits to:

Manage and Chair the meetings effectively, to promote productive communication and discussion.
Set the dates of the meetings in advance and communicate these effectively so as to allow delegates to plan their attendance.
Circulate agendas and minutes of the meetings in a timely manner. Communicate effectively with delegates interregnum, as appropriate.

Delegates should commit to:


Respect the roles and opinions of the other delegates, the Chair and other staff in attendance.
Make every effort to attend the meetings and act as a representative for a minimum of one year (4 meetings).
Make every effort to effectively represent, feed back to and communicate with their user community; to include the publication of their names and contact details.
Show discretion in communicating what is discussed at the meetings and maintain confidentiality where instructed by the Chair or other staff members.

Constitution of the User Advisory Group
The User Advisory Group will meet 4 times a year with:
The Director of Operations and Services (co-chair) The Director of Customer and Business Development (co-chair) The Customer Intelligence Manager The Customer Research manager The Customer Intelligence Officer (online user representative)
Additional members of staff will be made available depending upon agenda topics.
Agendas for meetings will be published in advance of, and full minutes will be published following the meetings.

Resources
We will make limited resources available to support the User Advisory Group:
Publicise the dates of the meetings and the contact details of delegates, online, onsite and in publications where appropriate.
Provide meeting space, refreshments and facilities for the meetings, as required.
Where appropriate, provide reasonable resources to allow delegates to communicate and meet with members of the communities they represent (to include space on our notice boards and meeting rooms where available).

Technorati Tags: , , ,