Archive Service Accreditation: refreshed and reopened for business

An image of some of the most recent Archive Service Accreditation awards, ready for presentation.

Some of the most recent Archive Service Accreditation awards, ready for presentation.

I’m so pleased to say that a refreshed Archive Service Accreditation reopens today, almost exactly five years from the first publication of the standard in July 2013. New applications can be made on the updated application form, and the assessor bodies are looking forward to seeing fresh submissions.

The five years have passed incredibly fast for all partners involved in delivering the programme. It has been a great learning experience working with this management standard for archives, seeing how the UK archive sector has responded to having a standard that is designed to work for archives of all types and sizes.

The ethos of Archive Service Accreditation has always been based in co-creation, to make sure we have a standard that responds directly to the needs and priorities of the archive sector. Our thanks to the many participants who have contributed their views to the independently-managed refresh consultation, whether through completing a survey, participating in a workshop or joining the reference group for the revised documentation. You have made the process possible, and the outcome better.

Changes to the Accreditation standard

We have blogged previously about changes to the standard due to the refresh. Many are small updates and tweaks to existing approaches, which aim for a smoother application experience.

Three key areas have changed:

  • more opportunity to talk about risk and upcoming service change
  • reduced repetition in the questions around access
  • newly added specific questions about the management of risks to records in digital formats

Digital archiving is a challenge for all archives. The tasks of collecting, preserving and providing access to records are revolutionised by modern technology. This is our first attempt to reflect this in Archive Service Accreditation and particular thanks are due to the Digital Preservation Coalition and the Archives and Records Association’s Section for Archives and Technology, who gave us opportunities to workshop proposals with a wide range of archive services, and especially to the services which piloted these focused changes.

We hope these first updates to the programme give archive services the advocacy and evidence base they need to make progress. The changes are the start of an iterative development process for Accreditation in improving how the standard works for assessing digital capability. We anticipate this will be an area of rapid evolution, as we learn how the standard works in practice. The challenge of digital archiving means continually adapting to respond to a fast-moving technology landscape and advances in archival practice and we look forward to drawing on further consultation and expert advice to continue improvements in this area.

Supporting your application for Accreditation

One area where we really want to pick up the refresh feedback is in the support offered to applicants. Archive Service Accreditation is designed to be a developmental process, and no application is expected to be perfect.

But we know that it can be daunting to begin applying, especially in an organisation which hasn’t previously engaged with archive standards. If you’re in that position, we have new guidance on Getting Started with Archive Service Accreditation, which introduces the programme and how it can help you.

We will continue to offer workshops where there is regional or specialist demand, and are always happy to schedule one-to-one telephone surgeries for focused questions about an application. But we wanted to offer more, especially opportunities for those who struggle to take time away for training events, and to give opportunities for mutual support. We have therefore created an online community on the Knowledge Hub, where all those engaging with Archive Service Accreditation can discuss their activities. Extra resources are shared through this community, including a suite of case studies from successful applicants, and a beta version of a calculator for working out a service’s scalability. We will continue to develop the Knowledge Hub group in response to participant needs and interests. If you would like to join the group, do get in touch: accreditation@nationalarchives.gov.uk.

A photo of an Archives Accreditation cake

The range and variety of cakes to celebrate Accreditation has been one of the most unexpected benefits of the programme. We’ve enjoyed it very much! Copyright: Dorset History Centre

The Accreditation Partnership – a sector-owned standard

A five year partnership is something to celebrate, even more so when all the partners want to continue. I’m delighted to thank all seven Archive Service Accreditation partners who have confirmed their commitment to the programme, in an updated Memorandum of Understanding; that Archive Service Accreditation is a national partnership is the source of its strength and success. It has been a pleasure to hear this also articulated in feedback from The National Archives’ programme partners: Archives and Records Association (UK and Ireland); Archives and Records Council Wales; National Records of Scotland; Public Record Office of Northern Ireland; Scottish Council on Archives and the Welsh Government, through its Museums, Archives and Libraries Division.

If you’d like to get more involved with the management of Archive Service Accreditation, the programme is also seeking two new members for our governing Committee. This is an opportunity to work with partner nominees and other recruited members, to ensure that the programme remains grounded in sector needs. We are seeking two highly-regarded individuals who can bring their archive sector expertise to the programme.

Looking ahead

One of the enjoyable aspects of the refresh process has been the opportunity to talk to those who have worked towards the standard already. Their message has been clear: that Accreditation leaves an archive service stronger, more forward-looking and more visible than it was before starting the process, and that the work involved is absolutely worthwhile.

In working through the refresh and the development of new elements of the programme, we know that we won’t have got everything right. Accreditation is not a static standard, but an ongoing process of development, responding to the needs of UK archives. We will keep asking for feedback and improving the scheme. We look forward to hearing from you!

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