Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Taxonomies: may be it is all a myth?

Jim Connelly has published an article in this month’s RMS Bulletin, entitled ‘Functional taxonomies: myth or magic?’ Aside from the opening assumption that the birth of functional classification dates back to 2001 (odd, as I remember having lectures about it when studying for my Records Management Masters in 1997, and of course the first function-based JISC Study of the Records Lifecycle came out in 1999!), it’s an admirably succinct overview of the pros and cons of adopting either a functional, subject or organisation based approach to developing a corporate-wide schema.

The interesting thing from my perspective is that although the relative strengths and weaknesses of each of these different flavours of corporate-wide classification schemes is debated, there is no consideration given as to whether the notion of the classification scheme (of whatever hue) really is fit for purpose. I would argue that rather than just assuming the validity of corporate-wide classification schemes, we should, perhaps, be questioning whether they really meet the needs of our organisations now, and into the future.

For example, do we, in fact, kid ourselves that our classification schemes meet the needs of our users, who actually require a level of granularity far below that achieved by most classification schemes? Despite our best efforts, do records managers really understand the complex business processes which define our organisations (I speak as someone who started their career in the pharmaceutical industry and certainly never understood the intricacies of the drug development process)? Are classification schemes really comprehensive enough – especially function-based schemes - which may struggle to incorporate information which was not created as the result of one clearly defined process (e.g. photographs or even blogs). And, perhaps most significantly of all, how will we, on a practical level, be able to apply our corporate classification scheme to information and records being created and housed in a myriad of disparate, unconnected and externally hosted systems as we move further into a Web2.0 world.

The article suggests that it is ‘time to look at functional systems or schema objectively’. I would argue that it is time to cast the net even wider than that and, instead, to look at some of the fundamental assumptions on which all classification schemes are currently based.

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