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2010 Emmett Leahy Award Winner, Adrian Cunningham

Bio

The Emmett Leahy Award Committee selected Adrian Cunningham as the 40th recipient of the Emmett Leahy Award because his leadership efforts in both the National Archives of Australia and the International Council on Archives to promote collaboration and innovation have resulted in the development of world leading strategies, frameworks, standards, tools and guidelines for electronic records and information management. These initiatives have resulted in improved integration with and value to business systems and processes. The guidelines and practices have been adopted in many organizations globally and internationally recognized because of the value they bring to record keeping practice in both the public and private sectors. His leadership and initiative led to the development of the ICA’s Principles and Functional Requirements for Records in Electronic Environments – ICA-Req. The basic requirements are being further expanded for use through guidance and training materials that are being developed through a joint initiative of the ICA Section on Archival Education and Training, the International Records Management Trust and 9 participating ICA-member countries. As a result of this initiative, good recordkeeping has been cited as a regional priority. Funded by AusAID, eleven records management guidelines have been developed together with introductory and promotional materials. While focused on PARBICA, these works will be transferable into other geographic areas.
    

In addition, Adrian Cunningham has participated on international standards development committees, university advisory board and most recently management the development of PARBICA’s Recordkeeping for Good Governance Toolkit. He has written numerous articles that have been translated and published internationally. In addition to his full-time work, and participation on various international committees, he has written numerous articles that have been translated and published internationally. Furthermore, he has shared his knowledge and experience to the international community through seminars presented in over 17 countries for both English and non-English speaking audiences.

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Introductory Remarks

Peter Smith --- 1996 Winner, Emmett Leahy Award

The Emmett Leahy Award is the highest level of recognition given to an individual for outstanding accomplishments in the records and information management profession. It honors Emmett Leahy, an icon in the development of the lifecycle approach to managing records and information. Emmett Leahy, who began his career as an archivist in the United States National Archives in 1935, chaired the historic Hoover Commission on Paperwork Records Management Task Force. The recommendations of this task force resulted in the establishment of a federal government-wide records management program and subsequently in comparable programs in business and industry throughout the world. Emmett Leahy personified of innovation, dedication and excellence through his work in records and information management.


Leahy died in 1964 but beginning in 1967 his dedication in excellence in records and information management has been perpetuated in the prestigious award that bears his name. The Huron Consulting Group supports the Emmett Leahy Award as part of its promotion and celebration of excellence in records management throughout the world.  The Emmett Leahy Award Committee, which consists of the previous ten recipients of the award, annually selects an individual whose contributions have had a significant impact on the Records and Information Management Profession. The selection criteria include:


  • Program Development and Management
  • Innovation
  • Education
  • Professional and Organizational Leadership


I received the Emmett Leahy Award in 1996 and I believe that this was a groundbreaking event in the history of the award as I became the first person outside of North America to receive the Award. Tonight is a special night for Australia because this year's recipient is a fellow Australian and it marks  the first time the award presentation has been made outside of North America.

RMAA Annual Conference, Queensland, Australia --- September 6, 2010

Dr. Mariella Guiercio --- 2009 Leahy Award Winner

The 2010 Emmett Leahy Award winner has held a variety of positions throughout a thirty-year career in Recordkeeping in organizations at the local and national levels. Our winner’s leadership efforts, collaboration and innovation have resulted in the development of world leading strategies, frameworks, standards, tools and guidelines for electronic records and information management. These initiatives have resulted in improved integration with and value to business systems and processes.


The guidelines and practices have been adapted, adopted in many organizations globally and internationally recognized for the value which they bring to record keeping practice in both the public and private sectors.


Our winner’s leadership and initiative led to the development of the ICA’s Principles and Functional Requirements for Records in Electronic Environments – ICA-Req. The basic requirements are being further expanded for use through guidance and training materials which are being developed through a joint initiative of the ICA Section on Archival Education and Training, the International Records Management Trust and 9 participating ICA-member countries.


As a result of this initiative, good recordkeeping has been cited as a regional priority. Funded by AusAID, eleven records management guidelines have been developed together with introductory and promotional materials. While focused on PARBICA, these works will be transferrable into other geographic areas.


Recognized for his work in all aspects of recordkeeping, our winner has participated on international standards development committees, university advisory board and most recently management the development of PARBICA’s Recordkeeping for Good Governance Toolkit. In addition to his full-time work, and participation on various international committees, our winner has found the time to write numerous articles which have been translated and published internationally.


He has presented seminars in over 17 countries for both English and non-English speaking audiences, further sharing his knowledge and expertise. By now you will probably have determined that the 2010Emmett Leahy award Winner is Adrian Cunningham. Adrian, it gives me great pleasure to present you with the 2010 Emmett Leahy award.


Please join me in congratulating Adrian.

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Additional Information

To say that I was nonplussed when Charles Dollar wrote to me with the news that I had been selected as the recipient of the 2010 Emmett Leahy Award would be a huge understatement. The adding of my name to the distinguished list of previous award recipients, when there are so many other seemingly more worthy recipients who have not yet been so recognised, was both totally surprising and also immensely humbling. I was absolutely delighted last year when I heard that my friend Mariella Guercio had been so deservedly awarded the 2009 Emmett Leahy Award. I never imagined for a moment that I would be the next recipient. It is a tremendous honour and one that I would like to dedicate to my colleagues, both in Australia and abroad, who I have had the pleasure of working with on the grand recordkeeping endeavour over so many years. For nothing is more certain than that anything I have helped achieve during these endeavours has only been achieved as a result of teamwork, collaboration, cooperation and mutual support.


In particular, I have to pay tribute to my employer of the past twelve years, the National Archives of Australia (NAA), for giving me the support, encouragement and opportunities to pursue the various activities and initiatives that have been alluded to in the award citation. It has been an exciting, rewarding and sometimes even an unnerving time to work at Australia’s leading archives and records organisation in a period of enormous change and experimentation, during which Australia has come to be regarded as being a world leader in modern recordkeeping theory and practice. The global emergence of Australian recordkeeping has not happened by accident. It is the result of courageous, insightful and hard working individuals from a variety of practitioner and educator backgrounds working together to test, articulate and implement approaches to recordkeeping that dared to defy traditional orthodoxies and received wisdoms. It has only happened because leading thinkers and practitioners around the world have contributed to the emergent Australian discourse, thus strengthening and validating it whilst at the same time subjecting it to the necessary levels of ongoing critique and reassessment.


But this is not the time, nor indeed is it ever the time, for Australian triumphalism. For in such hubris lie the seeds of our own failure. Truly we are but part of a global profession facing global challenges that can only be overcome by global cooperation, goodwill and humility, together with a willingness to admit to our inevitable mistakes, miscalculations and failures. For what do we achieve if we replace one flawed orthodoxy with another brave but flawed orthodoxy except to create, to paraphrase South Africa’s Verne Harris, “an Australian recordkeeping juggernaut that forces all other dissenting views to the fringes of the global periphery”?


I have been asked by the Awards Committee to share with you my vision for the future of electronic records management. While I cannot pretend to be a futurologist, this is nevertheless a matter that I have spent years agonising over – most recently in a paper I presented at the Society of American Archivists Annual Meeting in Washington. The session at which I spoke at the SAA meeting also featured fellow Emmett Leahy Award winner, Canadian John Macdonald, and NARA’s Lisa Weber – both veterans of electronic records management struggles dating back twenty years and more. The three of us chose to consider why it is, after so many years of electronic records research and standards development, that most organisations around the world are still struggling to implement sustainable and cost-effective electronic recordkeeping regimes and, more to the point, what we should be doing to address these failings?


There are of course no easy answers to these questions. We all acknowledged that, while it is all very well and good to develop standards and frameworks, it is another thing altogether to get these standards and frameworks implemented. Our track record of implementation success is patchy at best, notwithstanding the fact that there are a number of exemplary success stories that can be pointed to.


One of the problems we identified is a lack of clarity and consensus about what success should look like and what our role is in helping organisations achieve this success. John Macdonald quoted something I had said in a different context to argue that ‘success will consist of a situation whereby most organizations have cost-effective and user-friendly capture, management of and access to authentic electronic evidence of their decisions and activities for as long as that evidence is required.

     

Our role in achieving this vision is, I believe, twofold. First, I would like to endorse something that Chris Hurley said at an RMAA Convention some years ago when he asked the question ‘What, if anything, is records management?’ and answered that we should be the providers of evidence solutions to organisations. Second, and moving beyond our narrow organisational mandates, we must not forget our long-term societal role where through our archival programs we document recordkeeping activity in order that valuable records can be carried forward across time and domains of use in ways that ensure that their meaning and utility persists. In short, archival systems are nothing more or less than systems for carrying recordkeeping systems forward across time and domains of use. Our peculiar collective challenge is devising and implementing strategies for preserving the evidential meaning of records by capturing and preserving records in context. If the much vaunted Australian ‘records continuum’ means anything to me it is as a unifying framework that guides recordkeeping professionals to fulfil these mutually intertwined sets of roles and responsibilities.


In my SAA paper I argued, inter alia, that part of the reason for our patchy record of electronic recordkeeping implementation success is our tendency to obsess about process and to demand levels of control and perfection that are both unrealistic and counterproductive. In the words of session chair, Minnesota State Archivist Bob Horton, ‘we have seen the problem and the problem is us!’  I called for more flexibility, more risk management and greater levels of tolerance for uncertainty and imperfection. Lisa Weber put this more elegantly when she used Buddhist metaphors of suffering, impermanence, karma, egolessness and nirvana to argue that we need to find a middle path. This resonated strongly with me, as I have often recited the mantra that in recordkeeping there are ‘many pathways to nirvana’.


All of which brings me to the main point of my acceptance speech, which is that we must never lose sight of the higher purpose that guides why we do what we do. We should not just be the sum of our standards, frameworks and processes. We should guard against the situation that Joan Schwarz warned us against years ago whereby ‘we make our tools and our tools make us’. I have never been able to get excited by the Jenkinsonian precept that our primary role is the ‘physical and moral defence of the record’. That is not a role that would make me want to jump out of bed every morning for another day of fighting the good recordkeeping fight. While a Jenkinsonian defence might be a partial means to an end, it is not to my way of thinking a higher vocation.


For me, a higher purpose unites the vital importance of public records as enablers of democratic engagement, accountability and transparency together with the vital importance of both public and private records as sources of cultural and societal memory and identity. The pursuit of these higher purposes requires us to take a broad perspective on the nature and significance of our work together with an openness to, respect for and intellectual curiosity about related professions and disciplines, other perspectives, other cultures, other knowledge systems and other world views.  Unquestionably we need our standards, tools, frameworks and manuals – heaven knows I have written plenty of them over the years – but they are only tools with all their flaws and contingencies, they are not holy writ.


Above all else we should not be so cowed by the apparently implacable scientific certainties of our calling that we subjugate our essential humanness underneath inherited layers of artificially constructed theory, practice and professionalism. There are times when we must listen to our soul and our conscience, even if this means that we must occasionally question or put aside the relentlessly positivist dictates of our professional calling. Similarly, we should not lose sight of those things that probably first attracted us to records work – that sense of connecting with the wonderful depth and richness of human experience in all its complexity and contrariness by preserving and providing access to its documentary residue; the sense that somehow the spirits of human beings now departed can yet resonate through the written artefacts of their lives; the belief that we can discern the motivations and innermost thoughts of groups and individuals through the evidence of the conduct of their affairs that they consciously or sub-consciously set aside for future reference.


Having introduced some Buddhist concepts into my meditations today, I can think of no better way to conclude than by echoing an approach I took some years ago in my chapter for the book Archives; Recordkeeping in Society, when I finished by presenting some haiku in an attempt to summarise the alternatives with which we are faced. As I see it, if the limit of our objectives is the physical and moral defence of the record then we risk a situation whereby:


Records bolster and perpetuate the power of ruling elites.


A more compelling vision of nirvana to me would be one where:

  • Recordkeepers help societies to tell stories about themselves


or where:

  • Records nurture and sustain the soul and conscience of human beings.


Thank you very much.

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