The PRSA team are part of the Records and Archives Engagement Branch at National Records of Scotland, responsible for overseeing the implementation of the Public Records Scotland Act (2011) (PRSA).

The Act requires named Scottish public authorities to submit a Records Management Plan (RMP) for the Keeper’s agreement, which must then be implemented and regularly reviewed.

Today, public records officer Liz Course tells us how the PRSA team have dealt with the challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and how technology has helped them to keep in touch with record keepers around the country.

As part of our work helping public authorities with their record keeping, the Team undertake assessments of RMPs and operate a voluntary improvement mechanism – Progress Update Review (PUR) – which helps organisations to demonstrate their progress, obtain feedback and guidance and encourages regular contact.

The team also contribute to the wider information and records sector, promoting the importance of good record keeping and participating in projects including

  • the ‘Global Records Access Information Exchange’ and ‘Keeping The Promise on Care Records’ initiative involving the Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection, Who Cares Scotland, and Social Work Scotland;
  • University College London’s ‘Memory, Identity, Rights in Records and Access’ project (MIRRA); and
  • the University of Stirling project ‘Back to the Future: Archiving Residential Children’s Homes (ARCH) in Scotland and Germany’.

Personal engagement is a huge part of how the team support public authorities with PRSA compliance. It allows us to build and maintain strong working relationships. This would ordinarily be done throughout the year with one-to-one meetings and by holding surgeries, which are open to named Scottish public authorities regardless of what stage they are at with their RMP.

Over the last year however, this work has been curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and although our assessment and review work was able to continue, we were limited in the ways we could engage with stakeholders. Like many others, we’ve had to innovate and change our procedures to meet some unexpected challenges.

Online meetings have become part of how we work and the PRSA team recently embraced the world of “You’re on mute!” to reconnect with our stakeholders through a series of Spring surgeries.

The NRS team presenting in the virtual lecture theatre

NRS has been holding these surgeries since 2012 and they always prove popular. They are a chance for the team to update stakeholders on what we have been up to, allow them to ask us questions or raise concerns, and they are also a forum for discussion. These surgeries took place in March and April and provided the opportunity for a general catch up and to ask our stakeholders what they would like included in future.

For these events, we were also joined by our colleagues from the NRS Client Management Team, who provide support to public authorities depositing their records with NRS for permanent preservation. In previous years, we have also held surgeries focussed on subjects that are particularly relevant such as migration to new electronic records management systems, and provided support to authorities or individuals within authorities who are new to the PRSA process.

We hold a PRSA conference every three years, usually opened by the Minister for Economy, Fair Work and Culture. It allows colleagues to also hear from the Keeper of the Records of Scotland and guest speakers and its aim is always to promote the Act and reflect on how far we have travelled together.

The shift to online engagement is not without challenges and we wondered how the format would work. When planning the surgeries, we were very aware of the increased demands on time now everyone meets virtually and calendars fill up quickly. With this in mind, we decided to allocate 90 minutes for these initial online 2021 events – shorter than our previous face-to face-events.

Despite these changes, stakeholders were not deterred and representatives from over 90 authorities attended the four surgeries held in March and April. The main challenge we found moving online, excluding technical glitches out with our control, was having enough time to convey everything we wanted and allowing sufficient time for discussion.

Attendees provided feedback and suggestions in an online survey which we have used to help us plan the format and content of our future online engagement events. We already have four more surgeries in the diary, with plans for more before the year is out.

While the PRSA team still miss getting out and about and engaging with stakeholders in person, the move to online engagement has many benefits. Not least being able to have attendees from authorities at opposite ends of the country (Dumfries and Orkney in one case) at the same surgery. 

I have also been informed that one of the changes felt most acutely by both the PRSA team and attendees was the shift to a BYOT&B (bring your own tea and biscuits) policy.

This is one hurdle we haven’t figured out how to overcome yet, but give us time!

You can find out more about PRSA at the National Records of Scotland website.

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