"I think that foundations, as public trusts, are under an obligation (still undefined) to make their information public. The 990s alone just don’t cut it."
Transparency Talk (TT): You mentioned at the forum that electronic data presents new challenges and opportunities for archival preservation, including the challenge of capturing data generated with changing hardware and software. How have these changes affected the functionality of archives in relation to the transparency of information for researchers?
Alan Divack (AD): The changes affect every aspect of records preservation and use of the material. I think that impact on transparency depends on these other fundamental issues. In order to keep electronic records available over time, institutions have three basic options: 1) the hardware and software platforms necessary for their use must be preserved; 2) the records must be converted to a more generic format more likely to be useable in the future (migration); or 3) systems must be developed that will enable future hardware and software systems to imitate the functionality of the original systems (emulation). Of these, 2 and 3 are the most promising, but each requires substantial planning and investments. If these investments are not made, the records will not be usable in the future and they become completely opaque to researchers.
TT: Based on your work to create the Global Archives at the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program, how can archives enable foundations to further their international human rights work? What documents or data are most important for facilitating a successful archival system in this area, and what are the risks involved with preserving and providing access to this information?
AD: I would actually flip this around and encourage foundations interested in human rights work to consider funding archival programs. A lot of human rights work depends on accurate documentation of offenses. When states or non-state actors commit offenses, it is often up to the non-governmental organization (NGO) sector to document what has happened, and then to preserve this documentation so that it can be used for both mobilization and individual redress. The Ford Foundation has worked with many grantees, particularly in Latin America, on this and I think that there is room for such programs in other regions as well.
Alan S. Divack is Senior Project Manager for Archives and Knowledge Management at the Ford Foundation International Fellowships Program.