Non‐conformist records management in Great Britain: a review

Publication Date09 Oct 2007
AuthorPhilip Thornborow
SubjectInformation & knowledge management
Non-conformist records
management in Great Britain:
a review
Philip Thornborow
University of Northampton, Northampton, UK
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to review the current state of knowledge of records
management within non-conformist churches in the UK, in the context of them not being public
records or covered by specific legislation.
Design/methodology/approach – Surveys, interviews, a literature review and documentary
analysis carried out in the course of an MSc dissertation provided evidence for an analysis of two
approaches currently being taken to records management in the organisations studied.
Findings – Discontinuities between practice at national and local levels of the churches were noted.
One organisation was discovered to be much more proactive than the others, and more concerned with
the whole records cycle. The reasons for these discontinuities and differences are discussed.
Research limitations/implications – The major focus is on one organisation, and within that
organisation a small sample was taken of one key set of staff. In the other three organisations
surveyed, only the view from the centre was sought. More work is required on the “sacred-secular
divide” – how being a religious organisation affects administration.
Originality/value – The review is the first carried out of the records management practices of a
group of religious organisations whose records are characterised as “private” rather than “public”, and
therefore less subject to legislation and inspection. The governance of the organisations studied is
driven by theological rather than any other consideration.
Keywords Records management,Religion, Churches, UnitedKingdom
Paper type Research paper
The records management literature is strong on the principles of the discipline, and on
how the profession operates within public or large commercial bodies. Much of the
discussion relates to the implementation of legislation, which has been a powerful
driver. Advocacy at the top of the organisation is recommended as the optimal method
of ensuring that programmes are implemented.
Less has been written about the non-governmental or non-commercial sectors. An
issue of this journal in 2004 highlighted the voluntary sector in the UK, and some
interesting case studies were examined (Dawson et al., 2004; Wakeling, 2004). Even so,
these were of relatively compact organisations. What has not attracted attention, so far,
is the situation within religious organisations. This lack of focus is not unique to the
records management literature. An earlier study of voluntary organisations concluded
that the nature of internal work processes in churches was an area that would reward
research (Harris, 1990). Whatever one’s personal view on matters of faith, it must be
acknowledged that these are large, national, organisations of some complexity. How is
records management to be carried out in an organisation with 6,600 units? That was
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Records Management Journal
Vol. 17 No. 3, 2007
pp. 169-178
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/09565690710833071

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