Mothballed Metrics – The Importance of Archiving.

How frustrating do you find trawling amongst historical data for information that assists your current analysis? Yet how rarely do we consider the importance of archiving.

Searching for historical statistics and financial information recently with a colleague in the Queensland State Library revealed to me the importance of recording information and depositing it somewhere accessible for future reference, not only for oneself but also for others. The reason for our visit was a project to establish a time series analysis to show what had changed over time in a particular case and whether there were lessons for today in the circumstances that may have changed.                                                                                                      (Image: State Library of Queensland)

To our frustration we encountered several problems:

  • data for some years in the series was missing or the documents just not available.
  • at various stages of the series the recording of the data changed in its format making comparison from year to year difficult if not impossible
  • also at various stages it was clear that the people preparing the data change their interpretation of what was being recorded which also affected comparability.

The importance of archiving.

This caused me to reflect on just how important it is for companies and public sector organisations to gather, record, publish and archive relevant statistics and information about their activities for posterity. Many organisations including some public sector organisations take the view that nobody really is interested in their annual reports and financial statements other than the auditors. Unfortunately the value of this information is often only discovered years later when researchers like me want to do some analysis using that data only to find that it is not available.

In our case we had the additional frustration of trying to track down sources that were by statutory decree required to be lodged with either Queensland Archives or Queensland State Library only to be told they were not recorded as held there. Thankfully, in one important instance a very diligent librarian would not rest until she solved the mystery and found the documents incorrectly filed – much to our relief.

Today there is a significant science built around records management and archiving to ensure the preservation and accessibuility of information beyond its active use date. To balance the keping of relevant and valuable information against the hoarding of useless information, Standards have been developed to guide retention and disposal schedulling. Records Management is seen as a legitimate sub-profession of information management with its own RIM Association in Australia.

Why are metrics so important?

History is a significant teacher of the present and future. By studying what has happened before, even if it is fairly recent, we can often observed trends that help us explain what is happening now or even help predict what might happen in the future. By diligently preparing our records now we can be helping others in the future.

ArchivingThe term “Metrics” comes from the word measure and originated from a usage in measuring length or distance. It is now applied to almost any form of measurement, particularly in the context of comparison. In an organisational sense it is often about measuring current performance and comparing current measurements to some benchmark or standard to see if we are up to the mark or not. By determining how far off the mark we are we can develop actions to get back on track.

What gets measured gets managed” Peter Drucker said.

When Archimedes developed mathematics to an art form he may not have realised how far reaching his work would extend or be extrapolated by future researchers. (Image: Archimedes by Domenico Fetti, Courtesy Wikimedia commons)

It is not always about numbers.

Whilst an entire industry now revolves around gathering and analysing financial and numeric statistics, sometimes quality and outcomes are more interesting than numbers. Amost any aspect of human endeavour can now be quantified, dissected and analysed in terms of measurements of some kind whether mathematical, statistical, algorithmical or exponential. 

In other cases the interest actual lies in the relationships between sets of data or information. There are some fascinating revelations to be drawn from wonderful analytical tools such as scatter-grams that depict patterns of useful information about how organisations, groups and individuals are performing.

Scattergrams

So we owe it to future generations of researchers to ensure we collate and retain all manner of statistics accurately and carefully. Many organisations already do operate under policies associated with careful preservation and archiving of records. Institutions like the State Library of Queensland and Queensland State Archives are amazing repositories of historical information principally focused on public records. A visit to their websites gives some insight into the range and extent of information available.

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