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  • John Kingston

Record keeping in Utopia

Wise Trevor Kletz advised: “Never remove equipment before you know why it was installed. Never abandon a procedure before you know why it was adopted.” But, how did you get on the last time you looked in the archives? And, if you haven’t searched recently, is it because of being thwarted in the past? Please tell me that I’m wrong, but the reasons for decisions tend to get lost in our organisations. In his studies of organisational learning, Donald Schön found that organisations are good at documenting the ‘how’ but not the ‘why’. It’s not that way everywhere. I recall an open-source software house: every line of their code had a detailed history of change and lineage back to its author. Elsewhere, though, you might wonder if records are seen as a bad thing. Prof. David Luban, coined the idea of screening actions. These are specific acts that avoid putting knowledge on record; a screen from accountability. Sometimes this is on purpose, to avoid ‘guilty knowledge’, but sometimes screens are structural; baked-in to culture and seldom questioned. But even in activities that depend on good record-keeping, practitioners’ writing ability and motivations can let it down. Nursing is a case in point and has been working on its record-keeping practices these last 20 years. They found that things improve once practitioners see writing as a valued part of their practice, rather than an unwelcome, thankless drag on their time. Education does its best, but for writing-as-practice the world of work is the finishing school.

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