ACT-IAC Releases Study on Social Media Retention Policies

This morning, an event is being held at the National Archives in Washington, DC  to announce the release of an American Council for Technology (ACT) Industry Action Advisory Council (IAC) report on Best Practices Study of Social Media Retention Policies (.pdf link). The report was produced by the IAC Collaboration and Transformation Shared Interest Group. Additional information about that group and information can be found on the ACT-IAC Website.

NARA cosponsored this work along with the Government Advisory Panel of the IAC. The purpose of the study was:

to build a discussion around the use of Web 2.0 Collaborative Technologies, also known as Social Media, to help government and its citizens connect more closely, collaboratively, and openly. The study involved interviews at 10 agencies regarding records management processes addressing the use of social media. The ACT-IAC Collaboration and Transformation Shared Interest Group has sought to explore and capture government best practices of retention policies for Social Media used to support agency missions.

The report calls on NARA to develop guidance on which social media content would be records. This goes beyond our traditional role in working with Federal agencies. Yes, we help agencies comply with records management laws and regulations by developing guidance. However, given the wide disparities and unique circumstances among individual Federal agencies, our guidance needs to be applicable to all agencies and delineate what agencies must do to comply with records requirements. Broadly applicable guidance allows agencies the flexibility to determine how best to implement specific recordkeeping requirements given their unique missions, priorities, and budgets. One of these requirements is that agencies have the responsibility to identify the records needed to carry out their mission.

We think this point warrants further discussion, as it is important to clarify any misconception that we are not trying to be as helpful as is possible to agencies in identifying their Web 2.0 or social media records. Two aspects of the statutory definition of a Federal record ideally require agency determination: (1) made or received by an agency in the course of conducting government business, and (2) preserved or appropriate for preservation as evidence of agency operations and decision-making. Answers to these record status questions are best made by agencies, not by NARA.

Last fall, we issued NARA Bulletin 2011-02 providing guidance on managing Federal records produced when agencies use Web 2.0/social media platforms and a Report on Federal Web 2.0 Use and Value (.pdf link).  Since the issuance of that Bulletin and the report, we have continued to work with Federal records managers, members of the Federal web manager community, and our other stakeholders to continue to learn about agency use of social media tools and how they are adapting our guidance. This new report is another that we will review in our ongoing process to improve our guidance.

We have long recognized that content Federal agencies create and place on their websites can be considered Federal records and managed as such. In January of 2005, we issued comprehensive guidance to Federal agencies on managing their Web records. This guidance discussed the ways agencies use web sites, the basic statutory requirements that govern web sites, especially the Federal Records Act, and the types of records agencies typically accumulate in connection with their web sites. Also included were the steps an agency must take to ensure trustworthy web records and the types of records that should be covered in web schedules, how these schedules might be structured, and the factors an agency should consider in determining how long records should be retained.

After the promulgation of this guidance, it became clear to us that the Web was evolving from a static repository of documents to environments that facilitated collaboration across geographic and institutional boundaries. An additional piece of guidance, Implications of Recent Web Technologies for NARA Web Guidance was issued in 2006 to provide more information to Federal agencies about these emerging technologies and their implications for agency records management. Since then, we have continued to work with Federal agencies and technical contacts in a variety of informal capacities to better understand their use of the web and identify the records management concerns. Through these efforts and contacts, we have a better understanding of the dynamic nature of Web 2.0 and the issues that confront individual Federal agencies.

4 thoughts on “ACT-IAC Releases Study on Social Media Retention Policies

  1. Arian,

    I wanted to bring to your attention that your blog post got ACT-IAC’s name wrong. The “A” in IAC stand for “Advisory” not Action. It should read “Industry Advisory Council.”


  2. Hi- I have read the 2011-02 document, but I am not clear on how to identify a NARA compliant web 2.0 site. I am also being told that we need to sift through our web 2.0 data for federal record and “categorize” them. I did not see this in the 2011-02 document.

    1. Sandra – I don’t know if I understand your question completely. To properly implement any of our guidance, agencies must first determine which content they are managing falls under the definition of a Federal record. That’s why you have to start by identifying what content meets your agencies interpretation of Federal record. It may be best to contact the appraisal archivist for your agency who can answer any specific question that you might have. A list of appraisal staff can be found here:

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