Towards interoperable recordkeeping systems. A meta-model for recordkeeping metadata

Publication Date17 July 2017
Date17 July 2017
AuthorGregory Rolan
SubjectInformation & knowledge management,Information management & governance
Towards interoperable
recordkeeping systems
A meta-model for recordkeeping metadata
Gregory Rolan
Cauleld School of Information Technology, Monash University,
Cauleld East, Australia
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to introduce an infrastructural approach to metadata modelling and
a generalised meta-model for recordkeeping metadata. This meta-model is an attempt to support
interoperability between disparate systems, and particularly, between sets of ostensibly incommensurate
record documentation.
Design/methodology/approach The investigation used a reective design-science investigation
comprising interviews adaptive literature review, creation of conceptual models and the design and
instantiation of a proof-of-concept system.
Findings The investigation conrms that recordkeeping interoperability between disparate ontologies is
achievable through a meta-model approach. In particular, the meta-model carefully denes relationships
between entities with specic semantics that enable the development of interoperable domain schemas.
Practical implications A meta-model for recordkeeping metadata facilitates the development of
recordkeeping systems that possess interoperability-by-design.
Social implications Recordkeeping systems that conform to the meta-model can, therefore, transcend
the immediate transactional context and support participatory recordkeeping in terms of a plurality of
stakeholder world views and agency in records.
Originality/value This paper is one of the few reporting design-science approaches to recordkeeping
informatics and one that has used a meta-model approach for recordkeeping metadata design. In contrast to
most empirically determined metadata schemas, the top-down design approach has produced a schema from
a wide variety of ontological sources.
Keywords Design, Model, Metadata, Recordkeeping, Interoperability
Paper type Research paper
While a record’s internal documentary characteristics may provide us with hints of meaning
and provenance (Duranti, 1998), additional recordkeeping metadata is usually necessary to
provide the context, and therefore the veracity of a record’s informational and evidentiary
affordances (Cumming, 2007). Moreover, a good metadata design is necessary for the best
management of, and access to, records beyond their immediate transactional context
(Gilliland, 2008). Such metadata may take many forms ranging from simple classication
terms or textual description, to comprehensive entity-relationship database schemas (Evans
et al., 2009;Gilliland and McKemmish, 2012;Schaffner, 2009).
The author wishes to acknowledge the wisdom and feedback given by his doctoral supervisors: Dr
Joanne Evans, Professor Sue McKemmish and Associate Professor Gavan McCarthy who started this
train of thought, as well as Dr Frank Upward and his pedantry regarding topology and topography,
albeit in a different context. The author is also immensely grateful to his research participants and their
invaluable feedback during the evaluation sessions.
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 27 September 2016
Revised 11 December 2016
Accepted 4 March 2017
RecordsManagement Journal
Vol.27 No. 2, 2017
©Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/RMJ-09-2016-0027
The international community, through its various standards processes, recognises such
metadata schema design as a core component of modern recordkeeping frameworks
(International Organization for Standardization, 2001a,2007). Such frameworks are needed
to facilitate the “design of the capacities, and/or appraisal of the capabilities, of […] systems
to create, capture and maintain adequate records” (Oliver et al., 2009). This shift of
recordkeeping practice, from inventory control to strategic analysis of recordkeeping
outcomes (Oliver et al., 2010), means that recordkeeping metadata must support the complete
“recordkeeping business” of “appraisal, control, preservation, retrieval, access, and use of
records” across space and through time (McKemmish et al., 1999).
However, the documentation of records is increasingly being acknowledged as a
contested space (Evans et al., 2015;Hopkins, 2008;Wood et al., 2014), comprising a plurality
of stakeholders, with multiple – even incommensurate – perspectives on the context and
meaning of records and the activities that they represent (Gilliland, 2014;PACG, 2011;Rolan,
2016). The issue of multiple perspectives becomes an operational problem when performing
recordkeeping analysis: in attempting to reconcile the “discordant cacophony” of different
intra- and inter-organisational (and, by extension, community) cultures (Foscarini and
Oliver, 2012), analysts struggle to document records according to multiple, and possibly
competing, world views with associated notions of meaning, access and agency within a
single system and its recordkeeping schema.
In actuality, recordkeeping systems do not exist in isolation, but within a network of
records, metadata, systems and stakeholders (PACG, 2011). To begin to address these
pluralities, this network needs to be purposefully designed and based upon a exible,
granular and interoperable infrastructure (Anderson and Allen, 2009;McCarthy and Evans,
2012;Reed, 2005). Unfortunately, existing recordkeeping and archival metadata standards
and schemas promote jurisdictional-specic implementation that neither affords
interoperability nor attempts to address the incommensurability of differing stakeholder
world views (Evans et al., 2009). They either assume conformance to a common conceptual
paradigm (Lehane, 2014) or, by side-stepping the issue of integrating multiple perspectives
into an interoperable whole, lead to the development of localised and isolated systems
(Evans, 2007;Rolan, 2015). A simple example of this is shown in Figure 1.
Such localised recordkeeping schemas and systems, together with schemes such as
authority les, reect the perspective of record-holders and their power to control discourse
(Caswell et al., 2016;Hopkins, 2008;Ketelaar, 2005). What is recorded (and what is deemed to
be a record), the meaning of records, how they are aggregated and arranged, as well as the
documented identity, roles and functions of the inscribers of records (and, indeed, the
privileging of the inscribers or “owners” of records above other participants) are all outcomes
of the choices made when recordkeeping schemata are constructed in line with contemporary
recordkeeping standards. This is also a perspective of records as agent-created artefacts.
This view requires participants in recordkeeping to negotiate what Bearman (1992,p.44)
describes as “the world of documentation”, rather than explicating the rich contextual
plurality of records corresponding to participants’ “knowledge of the world being
documented” – in other words, an activity-oriented perspective.
The artefact-agent paradigm simply does not admit differing, and especially,
incommensurate documentation of records within a single framework – either in terms of
alternate records that represent a given activity or alternative interpretations of records in
terms of activities that took place and the participants involved. Contemporary
recordkeeping standards and schemas are not semantically rich enough to allow the
simultaneous denition or even association of disparate collections of records and metadata.

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