Making records and information management culturally relevant in the Caribbean
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Making records and information management culturally relevant in the Caribbean

Sparkle N. Ferreira

The Caribbean is a melting pot of people of different ethnic backgrounds, rich cultural heritage and history recorded not only in our publications (formal records) but so too in our music, art, festivals, food, and memories (informal records). A significant amount of information about our history and culture is also stored within the oral traditions of our societies.

To give an example, calypsos1 capture political and socio-economic conditions of the period within which they were created. In a speech given by former Barbados Attorney General Sir David Simmons, he stated “…we cannot properly assess the social and political history of the people of the region without understanding and appreciating our oral traditions including the calypso and the genius of its several practitioners” (Simmons, 2020).

Similarly, in the work environment, records are not only created by formal transactions such as in procurement, administration and human resources functions, but are also created by more informal means such as through questionnaires, employee retreats, employee presentations, and staff meetings. These foster the creation of cultural records within an Organisation. One may say that the true culture of an Organisation exists within the informal records, created, managed, shared and stored by and amongst its employees.

Thus, it is important to consider policies, standards and procedures that are more conducive to both the organisation and national cultures for each of the Caribbean territories. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Historically, international policies, legislations and standards as best practices and ideals have either been accepted by Caribbean governments or imposed by foreign entities, for example during colonialism. Like our various forms of government and business operating systems, Records and Information Management (RIM) infrastructure is no different, as it is not “native” but “foreign,” not growing out of conditions of the existing society but inspired by distant examples” (Hurwitz, 1966).

In other words, the systems that have been adopted have been designed, either in part or in their entirety, from international models with very little initiative taken to formulate records management systems, policies, standards and/or legislation that are inherently Caribbean. Often, these international structures are not easily adaptable to the Caribbean modes and practices of work and with the lack of appropriate standards, RIM programs continue to struggle to meet the needs of the organisations they serve. One may even argue that the best-practices and impositions have created a schizophrenia because not only are the standards not practicable, but the resources are also not affordable nor available. Thus, records management in the Caribbean, when compared to the standards set by the United States and Australia will never be good enough, if we continue to make comparisons.

Cultural considerations for record-keeping in the Caribbean

Organisations that opt to use international standards such as those of the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO), National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), United States Department of Defence (DOD) and even Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), later encounter challenges in implementation and maintenance of the program. There is often a conflict between in-house convention or what is also known as precedent (culture) and policy. Policy is not always based on convention, nor convention on policy. This often results in many challenges in the workplace over what is considered organisational culture and best practice and at times among legislation, organisational culture/policy and best practice.

It should be noted that for many Organisations, best practice is that which is stated within the international laws, policies and standards or the actual activities commonly practiced within international Organisations and not what is conventionally practised in-house. It is therefore important to consider the culture of the Organisation and what precedents have been set and why these were established, to find a balance between best practice policy and conventional practices to manage and hopefully eliminate the challenges being experienced.

RIM legislation and standards such as ISO and HIPAA are excellent reference documents and have a solid place in the field of record and information management. However, information specialists in the Caribbean ought to consider these as foundation documents as opposed to a template for wholesale implementation. ISO 15489 for example, provides an excellent starting point for the drafting of RIM policies and what should be considered and possibly excluded from any RIM program.

However, the specific details of how the foundation principles of RIM will be applied, staffing structures, how information flows within the organization, storage and handling equipment and practices, access and permissions are unique to the organizations within which they exist. In other words, RIM programmes must be customised for each agency/organisation/ministry as each one is different from the other. It is therefore necessary to consider that organisational culture is not fixed and so it is important to revisit organisational needs and wants periodically to ensure that the implemented programme is still relevant.

Current state of RIM in the Caribbean

The practice of record-keeping, in both the public and private sectors, is in transition from a predominantly low-level function to one requiring scholarship and strategic management. To ensure its success, it is important to examine and resolve the challenges faced whilst understanding the vision, mission, and strategic objectives of each entity to ensure that the program being designed is a “best fit”. According to Victoria Lemieux in her review of the Strategic Plan for the Caribbean Community, there is need to ensure:

… effective and efficient governance arrangements that support good decision making, successful implementation of the regional agenda and accountability by all actors. It also includes carrying out reforms of state institutions to enhance decision-making, implementation, accountability and enforcement of laws and policies (Lemieux, 2018).

A similar opinion was expressed by the International Council on Archives (ICA) and the International Conference of Information Commissioners, supported by ARMA International, CODATA, Digital Preservation Coalition, Research Data Alliance, UNESCO Memory of the World and World Data System, which developed the statement “COVID-19: The duty to document does not cease in a crisis, it becomes more essential” (ICA, 2020). The statement calls on government ministries/public bodies and private entities to be proactive in their approach to the management of records and information.

For some public and private entities, there is also a considerable lack of the resources that are required to meet international best practices/standards. Firstly, most, if not all the tools required for the implementation of a RIM program in compliance with international best practice standards are only available from international suppliers. From storage equipment to conservation tools, the challenge is not only ease of access but the need for a steady flow of foreign exchange not only to purchase but also to maintain these systems and tools. In instances where storage equipment cannot be purchased, there is a need to source appropriate space locally to store the records either onsite or at an offsite location.

Similarly, there are high costs associated with the purchase of records and information management software. These costs are not one-time fees as organizations will need to consider licensing and maintenance costs, which are often yearly fees. It is important, therefore, that consideration be given not only to increasing the funding of information units, but also to sourcing local suppliers and/or constructing our own storage systems and/or units locally to supply the needs of information units across the region.

Secondly, while training opportunities have increased over time, these have been limited to more tertiary level opportunities, as opposed to certificate programs and certifications from local and/or regional institutions. These challenges are not only due to a lack of problems, but also a lack of skilled personnel to teach the desired courses. Specialists in the field have therefore had to pay to attend online programs based in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and others to obtain the desired qualifications. As a result, many of the information specialists within the Caribbean have obtained their training through work experiences with many leading the RIM movement based on seniority and general “know-how”. Thus, there is a need provide more cost-effective and accessible training programs at all levels, which will be designed from the real-life perspectives and experiences of individuals and organizations within the region.

Taking into consideration the earlier perspective about culture and its importance in conceptualizing an RIM framework, this is equally important when considering an appropriate legislative framework. Much of our legislation has been based on international laws from Canada and the United Kingdom, where the culture is different from the Caribbean. This often results in lacunas between different laws and institutional practices. This is most evident with the rise of legislation such as freedom of Information, privacy, and information rights.

In a roundtable discussion on information legislation in the Caribbean, it was stated that “The Caribbean region is scarce in timely and publicly available official data and information. Due to current developments in the corona pandemic a sea of misinformation, disinformation was rising” (UNESCO, 2020). According to Ms. Kiran Maharaj, President of the Media Institute of the Caribbean, “Access to Information is truly an underpinning of democracy where transparency is needed to ensure the public’s best interest is served. For societies to develop in the best way possible we must stay informed and empowered with the truth” (UNESCO, 2020).

Finally, there is a need for the migration of records – digitizing/automating work/ records/information – to digital platforms without the analog baselines. Information units in the Caribbean must explore new ways to provide access to information without compromising the integrity of the records and information. In the world of work, there is a need to not only digitize records for access, but also automate business processes to ensure greater efficiency across the organization and increased collaboration between and amongst all stakeholders. This will guarantee increased confidence in the organization, increased productivity, and would allow for staff to work smarter as records and information are easily available and accessible to all.


The following are a few recommendations when considering a Caribbean RIM framework:

1. Consideration must be given to what constitutes a record within Caribbean society. Currently, the imported RIM systems and standards do not cater for the management of informal or cultural records. Therefore, policies, storage requirements, preservation methods and conservation techniques will all need to be considered when re-considering RIM strategies in the region.

2. There is need for increased collaboration amongst all government archives and independent professional bodies such as the Caribbean Regional Branch on the International Council on Archives (CARBICA) and others to decide on regional best practices and standards for effectively implementing international precepts. We have already established that the adoption of foreign systems and standards often conflict with our culture and structures, therefore it is important to analyse the cultures of the Caribbean, define what is a record in the Caribbean context, what is necessary to manage the records in the region, identify the risks associated with the management of these records, understand the differences and needs of each of the individual Caribbean territories and finally develop the appropriate legislations, policies and standards. It is important to note that to accomplish this, Caribbean information practitioners cannot work in isolation. They must consult with other subject matter experts, such as legal experts to determine what is applicable to Caribbean societies and bravely declare what is not realistic.

3. Finally, there is a need to consider an information governance (IG) framework for Caribbean societies. According to one of the leaders in records management ARMA International, information governance is “the overarching and coordinating strategy for all organizational information. It establishes the authorities, supports, processes, capabilities, structures, and infrastructure to enable information to be a useful asset and reduced liability to an organization, based on that organization’s specific business requirements and risk tolerance” (ARMA, 2021).

A Caribbean IG framework would allow for a more structured approach to the management of records and information across the region. It would allow for the better management of the risks identified by Caribbean organisations in both the public and private sectors and would allow for the implementation of the right tools needed to minimise and/or mitigate these risks.

In conclusion, while this is certainly not an exhaustive list, it does provide a good starting point for the Caribbean region as we improve our records and information maturity. It also provides a foundation for other post-colonial societies to reconsider their own records and recordkeeping systems and its relevance to the societies within which they operate.

It is critical that, as the world evolves and the need for more collaboration, sharing of records and information across borders and certainly more remote access within organisations, we re-envision records management away from the US and Australian models to that which is home-made and/or inherently Caribbean.


1. Sometimes referred to as the national song of Trinidad and Tobago, Calypso (music) is “a kind of West Indian music or song in syncopated African rhythm, typically with words improvised on a topical theme” – extracted from the website of the National Library and Information System Authority (NALIS). (


ARMA Resources: Information Governance. 2021. Website. 13 December 2021.

Hurwitz, Samuel J. “The Federation of the West Indies: A Study in Nationalisms.” Journal of British Studies 6.1 (1966): 139-168. Online.

ICA. “COVID-19: The Duty to Document does not Cease in a Crisis, It becomes more Essential.” 4 May 2020. The Research Data Alliance. Online. 21 February 2021.

Lemieux, Victoria L. “Recordkeeping, Strategic Priorities, and Governance in Small Island Caribbean Communities.” Decolonizing the Caribbean Record: An Archives Reader. Ed. Jeanette A Bastian, John A Aarons and Stanley H Griffin. California: Litwin Books, 2018. 227-248. Book.

Simmons, Sir David. “The Importance of the Calypso to the People of the Caribbean.” An Address given to the Barbados Association of Calypsonians and Artistes (BACA). Bridgetown: bigdrumnation, 19 February 2020. Online.

UNESCO. Roundtable on the Status of Access to Information in the Caribbean. 28 September 2020. website.

Ms. Sparkle Ferreira is a Records Management Specialist and Cultural Analyst. She holds a BA (Hons.) in History ‘Special’ and an MPhil in Cultural Studies from the University of the West Indies. She is currently a PhD candidate in Information Studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Jamaica. Sparkle has worked in the field of Records Management for over 15 years and has experience in policy and proposal development and project management as a records management professional. She also currently serves as an Adjunct Lecturer at The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Jamaica.

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