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3.3 - Improve the discoverability and accessibility of government data: Archived records

Overall status:
On-track

This commitment is aimed at making it easier for the public to find, access and use government data and information. We will do this by making greater use of central portals, digital platforms and other tools to improve discoverability and accessibility.

The commitment by the National Archives of Australia is to modernise and improve access to the national archival collection.

The National Archives can best be described as the memory of our nation: we care for, preserve and make available for public access records that document the actions and decisions of the Government reflecting Australia’s history, democracy and identity. As well as preserving history, the Archives plays a key role in helping to ensure the Government and its agencies are effective, transparent and accountable to the people. The most significant records of the Government are held by the National Archives of Australia. To facilitate citizens’ access to these records through digital and online channels, the Archives will continue to lead the transition from paper to digital information practices in government agencies, digitise paper records of high research value and increase the number of records available for public access.  

Current status

In April 2017, the National Archives published on its website the 2016 Report to the Portfolio Minister, the Attorney-General, on Implementation of Digital Continuity in the Australian Government. The report is based on surveys of government agencies by the Archives conducted in 2015 and 2016 and provides metrics on agencies progress towards managing government information digitally. The Archives has successfully conducted the 2017 Digital Continuity Statement survey to determine agency progress towards the targets for transitioning the Government to fully digital information practices. 95% of agencies in scope participated in the survey. Findings are being analysed and results will be published online. In November 2017 the Archives released the Digital Authorisations Framework which is a risk-based assessment tool for transforming analogue approval processes to fit-for-purpose digital approvals. It provides Australian Government agencies with a consistent approach for determining appropriate digital approval methods for business processes to increase the Government’s accountability.

Under the Archives Act 1983, the Archives provides access to, promotes and interprets the national archival collection. The collection can be accessed online through the Archives’ websites with new material added each week. The Archives also provides access to the collection via the National Reference Service and reading rooms in each capital city, some co-located with state or territory archives or libraries, providing a one-stop shop for researchers. In addition, the Archives engages with diverse audiences, including school children, veterans and their families and Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse communities to assist them to learn about their heritage and democracy.

Since July 2016, the Archives has proactively released for public access over 319,500 records from 320 groups of archival records including key 1992–93 Cabinet records, records relating to the Mabo High Court case, and the 1967 Referendum. The Archives has also released an additional 49,875 records in response to applications for access received from members of the public.

In 2016/17 the Archives has added over 9.4 million digital images of collection material to its website. Subjects covered by these new images include Cabinet, passenger arrival, and military service. Throughout the year the Archives has supported a number of community organisations, government agencies and researchers to commemorate World War I and World War II anniversaries by making records about Indigenous service personnel, military medical officers and serving and repatriated veterans from various localities available for public access.

In addition to promoting access in reading rooms and via its website, the Archives provides websites, publications, exhibitions, displays and events that allow people to engage with and explore the collection and its impact on the nation’s heritage and democracy.  The Archives also provides an education program that introduces students and others to the national archival collection and Australia’s history and develops marketing and communication programs, including media engagement, to inform people about the Archives and its’ services.

In 2016/17 the Archives hosted 5.6 million visits to online and onsite programs and services with 4.7 million records accessed online or onsite.

Digital access projects launched by the Archives in 2017 include:

  • Facing Two Fronts: the fight for respect telling the stories of Indigenous service personnel and their fight for social justice.
  • Four new video tutorials were released on the Archives’ Discovering Anzacs website to assist the public understand World War I service records.
  • The upgraded Destination: Australia: Sharing our post war migrant stories was launched on 8 May 2017. The upgrade, which has generated much positive feedback has facilitated increased public engagement with the Archives' extensive collection of photographs which document the arrival and settlement of post war migrants.

Through its network of consultative forums in each capital city, and the planned redevelopment of its corporate website the Archives is refocussing its public engagement mechanisms to further encourage public input into decisions about the proactive release of records in the Archives collection. Activities for raising awareness of the Archives’ commitments and review of their progress by the stakeholders are planned for early 2018.

Other stakeholders

Government: All Australian Government departments are required to participate in implementation of the Digital Continuity 2020 policy.

Non-Government: National Archives Consultative Forums consisting of representatives of historical, genealogical, military and other research interest groups.

Steps to implementation

Implementation Step Implementation Period Status

The Archives will lead the transition to fully digital information management practices in government agencies. Creating and maintaining information in digital formats better supports timely online access to government data online.

Dec 2016-Dec 2018 On-track

The Archives will increase the number of archival records available in digital formats, including World War II service and passenger arrival records.

Dec 2016-Dec 2018 On-track

Make additional groups of archival records of high research interest available for public access.

Dec 2016-mid 2018 On-track

Status updates for commitments are provided approximately every two months. With each update, agencies are encouraged to provide further and better particulars of the commitment and its steps to implementation, which may result in changes to timelines outlined in Australia’s first Open Government National Action Plan 2016-18.

Last updated: 01/12/2017

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