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

Overall status:

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

The National Archives leads the transition of government agencies to digital information management practices so that information is created and maintained in digital formats to better support timely online access. Every year the National Archives conducts a survey to determine agencies’ progress towards the targets for transitioning the Government to fully digital information practices. Known as Check-up Digital in 2016-2017, in July 2018 this survey was replaced by Check-up PLUS. The results from 2018 and comparison to previous surveys indicate that progress is being made towards the National Archives’ Digital Continuity 2020 (DC2020) policy targets. It is noted that although DC2020 targets were not designed specifically for the Open Government Partnership, the DC2020 Policy is complementary to the Government’s transformational agenda as well as the commitment to open government. It is therefore relevant that agencies are making progress towards more digital maturity and information sharing, supporting the goals of open government.

During 2018, the National Archives released the beta version of a new information management and data capabilities approach, replacing the previous digital information management capabilities matrix. It provides Australian Government agencies and the broader information management profession with pathways to improve skills, with particular emphasis on data for information management professionals. Improving information and data skills will lead to improved management of information and data as government and corporate assets.

Under the Archives Act 1983, the National Archives provides access to, promotes and interprets the national archival collection. The collection can be accessed online through the National Archives’ website 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. The National Archives engages with diverse audiences, including school students, veterans and their families and Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse communities to assist them to learn about our shared heritage and democracy.

From July 2016 until the end of 2018, the National Archives has proactively released over 607,000 records from over 400 groups of archival records, including records relating to the World War I repatriation case files, Mabo High Court case, the 1967 Referendum, entries to the Parliament House design competition, migrant selection documents for people displaced following World War II, and key 1992-1997 Cabinet records. Additionally the Archives has released over 111,200 records in response to applications for access received from members of the public.

Making the collection discoverable and accessible is a strategic priority.  Since the inception of the first Australian Open Government Partnership National Action Plan the National Archives has added to its online collection database RecordSearch over 20 million digital images of collection material. These digitised records document a broad range of areas, including the work of the Cabinet, passenger arrivals, immigration and naturalisation processes, and military service. The Archives continues to support community organisations, government agencies and researchers to commemorate World War I and World War II anniversaries. We have made records about indigenous service personnel, military medical officers and serving and repatriated veterans from various localities available for public access.

The National Archives’ focus is now on proactive digitisation to preserve records considered at risk of deterioration or obsolescence, and of the highest use and greater significance. This includes prioritising the at-risk photographic collection. The National Archives continues to work towards meeting the public’s demand for accessing digitised records online.

In addition to promoting access to archival government records in reading rooms and through its website, the National Archives delivers on-line publications, exhibitions, displays and events that allow the public to engage with and explore the collection and its impact on the nation’s heritage.  The Archives 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 the public about the National Archives and its services.

In 2016-2018, the National Archives launched new online learning resources, including Discovering Anzacs, Destination: Australia, and Vrroom (a school education learning portal). In 2017 the Archives launched its first exhibition with a fully digital experience, Facing Two Fronts: the fight for respect, which explores the military service of Indigenous people and the fight for social justice. In November 2018 the online exhibition 1918: A different life was launched.

The National Archives works with a range of external organisations to expand the reach and use of the collection. In November 2016 it launched a selection of curated collection content on the Google Arts & Culture platform. The platform makes the collection more accessible to new global audiences. In 2016-2017 our national exhibition touring program delivered a number of exhibitions hosted in rural and regional galleries. These included Without Consent: Australia’s past adoption practices and two immigration-related exhibitions, A Place to Call Home? Migrant hostel memories and A Ticket to Paradise? Our education program on immigration was further enriched, with the re-launch of our popular immigration website, Destination: Australia. The website can now host and connect to new immigration collections and capture individual crowd-sourced migration stories. The upgrade, which generated much positive feedback, has facilitated increased public engagement with the Nation Archives’ extensive collection of photographs which document the arrival and settlement of post war immigrants.

Through its network of consultative forums in each capital city, and the planned redevelopment of its corporate website the National Archives is refocussing its public engagement mechanisms to further encourage public input into decisions about the proactive release of records in the collection.

Partnerships were established in support of the national touring program including with the Netherlands' Nationaal Archief and the Royal Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands; the Australian Government’s Department of Communications and the Arts; the Department of Social Services; and the Department of Home Affairs. The National Archives worked with cultural and knowledge institutions to deliver public programs based on the use of archival material. The National Archives also renewed its partnership with the Australian Dictionary of Biography and continues to support the development of biographies and projects commemorating military service in particular regions.

The National Archives hosts annual Constitution Day Speakers Forum discussions: in 2016 in recognition of Australia’s First Peoples, Stan Grant and Shireen Morris, along with Paul Barclay from ABC Radio National’s Big Ideas discussed the topic of Indigenous Recognition and Australia’s Identity – Why is it Important?; in 2017 the topic was The democratic disruption: Is the Constitution alone enough to safeguard the institution of democracy today?; in 2018 – Parliament and Citizenship.

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 Completed

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 Completed

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

Dec 2016-mid 2018 Completed

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: 12/02/2019

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