Mitigating Risk and Increasing Transparency, Securely and Globally

By Andrea Donohue and Nicolette Lodico

Managing records for a global organization is complex, especially as we shift into an exclusively digital records environment and generate increasing amounts of files and data. Many organizations place compliance and risk mitigation at the fore of their records management programs and focus on properly disposing of records or locking down records they retain in perpetuity. Still, other organizations are committed to preserving a faithful record to share with the global community even though their  work receives varying degrees of scrutiny and opposition, depending on the local context. 

Such is the case at the Ford Foundation. Finding the right balance is critical for protecting our grantees, who work with those closest to the problems the foundation is committed to addressing (often marginalized voices). By blending policy, procedure, training, and outreach, we work with our staff to understand what they find archivally valuable and what security concerns they have about making those archival records available over time. With that understanding, we develop mechanisms to account for the various security and privacy issues inherent in all records and archives programs. The work and balancing act is never-ending! 

“We place the subject matter experts at the center, empowering them to be the curators of their own legacy.”

Here are four principles that guide our work in sustaining a legally compliant and security-minded records and archives management program—one that protects our grantees and partners while fostering transparency and continuous learning.

1. Context is everything

This balance cannot exist without understanding the legal and geopolitical contexts in which grantees and foundation staff work. The context is not the same everywhere, so our treatment of the record cannot be uniform.

Ford’s Information Management (IM) team works with legal experts to ensure a legally compliant records and archives program in all jurisdictions where we have offices. This program goes a step further: we must also consider the cultural and geopolitical requirements that are not typically as overt as the legislation is. Doing so enables us to create compliant retention periods and handling instructions beyond the letter of local law.

2. Not all records are created equal

Not all record material is appropriate for external use. We employ three overarching records dispositions, which enable the Ford Foundation to be as transparent as possible while managing unnecessary risk and mitigating the security concerns of the at-risk populations we serve.

  • Temporary Records have no archival value but may have legal retention requirements. We destroy or delete these at the proper times.
  • Archival Records are appropriate for external use. We send them to our external archival repository for public service.
  • Archival-Closed Records are permanent records that are not suitable for external use. We preserve these records internally.

3. The embargo period is our friend

The IM team works closely with General Counsel to develop internal and external embargo periods for all archival records. These periods range from records made available immediately to those that remain closed for 25 years. The practice serves several purposes. First, it allows information that is sensitive, in the present, to become less sensitive and more appropriate for sharing over time. It also provides much-needed perspective and enables researchers to use foundation records in a more informed context. Finally, our embargo policy provides us the flexibility to extend restrictions for certain records should the need arise—e.g., with the benefit of hindsight or as political and social contexts shift over time.

4. Managing records is everyone’s responsibility

It would be impossible for the foundation to satisfy these commitments without fostering a culture that supports our records’ rigorous management. 

At Ford, records management training is mandatory for all staff to ensure they understand the policies and their responsibilities to those policies. We place the subject matter experts at the center, empowering them to be the curators of their own legacy. That is, they are empowered to both identify what is archivally valuable and what is not appropriate for external use or too sensitive for consumption. We place restrictions on such records and revisit those restrictions over time as global circumstances change. The goal is to safeguard restricted material until the organization feels the records no longer pose a risk, after which the restriction is lifted. 

There are many ways organizations can balance their desire to manage their records, preserve their legacy, and ensure sensitive information is protected, all while telling the story of those often marginalized voices doing the work. At Ford, we have found that a combination of sound, enterprise-wide policies; an organizational culture that understands the value of archival records; and putting subject matter experts at the center allows us to maintain the right balance between being transparent and mitigating risks to the organization and the people we support.

Andrea Donohue is the Senior Manager, Global Records and Archives at the Ford Foundation in New York, N.Y. where she has worked on the digital transformation of the foundation, its policies, procedures, and systems. Andrea has also developed and manages a globally compliant records and archives management program designed to mitigate risk while preserving organizational history and increasing access to information. Andrea has a Master’s Degree in Library Science and holds certifications as a Records Manager (CRM), an Information Governance Professional (IGP), and a Federal Records Manager. She serves as a member of several international records organizations and believes in freely sharing her work to contribute to the record and archive profession’s body of knowledge.

Nicolette Lodico is the Director of Global Information and Knowledge Management at the Ford Foundation in NYC, where she leads foundation-wide programs in records, archives, and knowledge management. Her work focuses on establishing practices to increase transparency, preserve institutional memory, and contribute to historical scholarship and public discourse through the responsible management of institutional records. She also is president of the Technology Association of Grantmakers, a non-profit organization that cultivates the strategic, equitable, and innovative use of technology to advance philanthropy. Nicki is passionate about minimizing barriers to sharing and finding information and to analyzing information to reveal new insights. Her current interests include ontologies, digital curation, metadata, and machine learning. She earned her M.L.S. from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

A Case Study in Failure (and Triumph!) from the Records Management Perspective

By Sarah Dushkin


This is the sixth post in the bloggERS series #digitalarchivesfail: A Celebration of Failure.

I’m the Records Coordinator for a global energy engineering, procurement, and construction  contractor, herein referred to as the “Company.” The Company does design, fabrication, installation, and commissioning of upstream and downstream technologies for operators. I manage the program for our hard copy and electronic records produced from our Houston office.

A few years ago our Records Management team was asked by the IT department to help create a process to archive digital records of closed projects created out of the Houston office. I saw the effort as an opportunity to expand the scope and authority of our records program to include digital records. Up to this point, our practice only covered paper records, and we asked employees to apply the paper record policies to their own electronic records.

The Records Management team’s role was limited to providing IT with advice on how to deploy a software tool where files could be stored for a long-term period. We were not included in the discussions on which software tool to use. It took us over a year to develop the new process with IT and standardize it into a published procedure. We had many areas of triumph and failure throughout the process. Here is a synopsis of the project.

IT was told that retaining closed projects files on the local server was an unnecessary cost and was tasked with removing them. IT reached out to Records Management to develop a process to maintain the project files for the long-term in a more cost-effective solution that was nearline or offline, where records management policies could be applied.

The software chosen was a proprietary cloud-based file storage center or “vault.” It has search, tagging, and records disposition capabilities. It is more cost-effective than storing files on the local server.

At 80% project completion, Records Management reaches out to active projects to discover their methods for storing files and the project completion schedule. 80% engineering completion is an important timeline for projects because most of the project team is still involved and the bulk of the work is complete. Records Management also gains knowledge of the project schedule so we can accurately apply the two-year timespan to when the files will be migrated off the local server and to the vault.  The two-year time span was created to ensure that all project files would be available to the project team during the typical warranty period. Two years after a project is closed, all technical files and data are exported from the current management system and ingested into the vault, and access groups are created so employees can view and download the files for reference as needed.

Last year, we began to apply the process to large active projects that had passed 80% engineering completion. Large projects are those that have greater than 5 million in revenue.

Recently we have begun to audit the whole project with IT, and are just now identifying our areas of failure and triumph. We will conduct an analysis of these areas and assess where we can make improvements.

Our big areas of failure were related to stakeholder involvement in the development, deployment, and utilization of the vault.

Stakeholders, including the Records Management team, were not involved in the selection or development of the vault software tool. As a result, the vault development project lacked the resources required to make it as successful as possible.

In the deployment of the vault, we did not create an outreach campaign with training courses that would introduce the tool across our very large company. Due to this, many employees are still unaware of the vault. When we talk with departments and projects about methods to save old files for less money they are reluctant to try the solution because it seems like another way for IT to save money from their budget without thinking about the greater needs of the company. IT is still viewed as a support function that is inessential to the Company’s philosophy.

Lastly, we did not have methods to export project files from all systems for ingest into the vault; nor did we, in North America, have the authority to develop that solution. To be effective, that type of decision and process can only be developed by our corporate office in another country. The Company also does not make information about project closure available to most employees. A project end date can be determined by several factors, including when the final invoice was received or the end of the warranty period. This type of information is essential to the information lifecycle of a project, and since we had no involvement from upper level management, we were not able to devise a solution for easily discovering this information.

We had some triumphs throughout the process, though. Our biggest triumph is that this project gave Records Management an opportunity to showcase our knowledge of records retention and its value as a method to save money and maintain business continuity. We were able to collaborate with IT and promulgate a process. It gave us a great opportunity to grow by harnessing better relationships with the business lines. Although some departments and teams are still skeptical about the value of the vault, when we advertise it to other project teams, they see the vault as evidence that the Company cares about preserving their work. We earned our seat at the table with these players, but we still have to work on winning over more projects and departments. We’ve also preserved more than 30 TB of records and saved the Company several thousands of dollars by ingesting inactive project files into the vault.

I am optimistic that when we have support from upper management, we will be able to improve the vault process and infrastructure, and create an effective solution for utilizing records management policies to ensure legal compliance, maintain business continuity, and save money.


Sarah Dushkin earned her MSIS from the University of Texas at Austin School of Information with a focus in Archival Enterprise and Records Management. Afterwards, she sought to diversify her expertise by working outside of the traditional archival setting and moved to Houston to work in oil and gas. She has collaborated with management from across her company to refine their records management program and develop a process that includes the retention of electronic records and data. She lives in Sugar Land, Texas with her husband.

Exploring Digital Preservation, Digital Curation, and Digital Collections in Mexico

By Natalie Baur

This post is the fourth post in our series on international perspectives on digital preservation.


During the 2015-2016 academic year, I received a Fulbright García-Robles fellowship to pursue research relating to the state of digital preservation initiatives and digital information access in Mexico. The Instituto de Investigaciones Bibliotecológicas y de la Información at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City graciously hosted me as a visiting researcher, and I worked with leading Mexican digital preservation expert Dr. Juan Voutssás.

In Mexico, I was able to conduct interviews with nearly thirty organizations working on building, managing, sharing and preserving their digital collections. The types of organizations I visited were diverse in several areas: geographic location (i.e. outside of heavily centralized Mexico City), organization size, organization mission, and industry sector.

  • Cultural Heritage organizations (galleries, libraries, archives, museums)
  • Government institutions
  • Business/For-profit organizations
  • College and University archives and libraries

Because of the diversity of the types of institutions that I visited, the results and conclusions I drew were also varied, and I noticed distinct trends within each area or category of institutions. For the brevity of this blog post, I have taken the liberty to abbreviate my findings in the following bullet points. These are not meant to be definitive or exhaustive, as I am still compiling, codifying and quantifying interview data.

  • The focus on digital collection building and preservation in business and government tends toward records management approaches. Retention schedules are dictated by the federal government and administered and enforced by the National Archives. All federal and state government entities are obligated to follow these guidelines for retention and transfer of records and archives. While the guidelines and processes for paper records are robust, many institutions are only beginning to implement and use electronic records management platforms. Long-term digital preservation of records designated for permanent deposit is an ongoing challenge.
  • In cultural heritage institutions and college and university archives, digital collection work is focused on building digitization and digital collection management programs. The primary focus of the majority of institutions is still on digitization, storage and diffusion of digitized assets, and wrangling issues related to long-term, sustainable maintenance of digital collections platforms and backups on precarious physical media formats like optical disks and (non-redundant) hard drives.
  • While digital preservation issues are still in the nascent stages of being worked through and solved everywhere around the globe, in some areas strong national and regional groups have been formed to help share strategies, create standards and think through local solutions. In Mexico and Latin America, this has mostly been done through participation in the InterPARES project, but a national Mexican digital preservation consortium, similar to the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) in the United States, is still yet to be established in Mexico. In the meantime, several Mexican academic and government institutions have taken the lead on digital preservation issues, and through those initiatives, a more cohesive, intentional organization similar to the NDSA may be able to take root in the near future.

My opportunity to live and do research in Mexico was life-changing. It is now more crucial than ever for librarians, archivists, developers, administrators, and program leaders to look outside of the United States for collaborations and opportunities to learn with and from colleagues abroad. The work we have at hand is critical, and we need to share all the resources we have, especially those resources money cannot buy: a different perspective, diversity of language, and the shared desire to make the whole world, not just our little corner of it, a better place for all.  

natalie_headshotNatalie Baur is currently the Preservation Librarian at El Colegio de México in Mexico City, an institution of higher learning specializing in the humanities and social sciences. Previously, she served as the Archivist for the Cuban Heritage Collection at the University of Miami Libraries and was a 2015-2016 Fulbright-García Robles fellowship recipient, looking at digital preservation issues in Mexican libraries, archives and museums. She holds an M.A. in History and a certificate in Museum Studies from the University of Delaware and an M.L.S. with a concentration in Archives, Information and Records Management from the University of Maryland. She is also co-founder of the Desmantelando Fronteras webinar series and the Itinerant Archivists project. You can read more about her Fullbright-García Robles fellowship here.