The National Archives’ strategic response to COVID-19

As a government department, we are part of the wider government response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Our statutory and non-statutory duties as the archive of the UK Government and as Official Publisher, and our leadership of the wider archives sector, make us an essential part of that response, both during the crisis and beyond.

These duties are at the core of our historic mission.

Our long-term vision, set out in Archives for Everyone, also begins from this mission and has still greater resonance in the context of this response.

We remain wholly committed to the vision we set out in Archives for Everyone: to be the inclusive, entrepreneurial and disruptive 21st century national archive, connecting with the biggest and most diverse audience possible, in the most innovative ways we can.

Our promise and potential is as great as ever and our ambition is undimmed, but COVID-19 means that realising the vision will be different to the one we had begun.

Inescapably, COVID-19 has changed our current context. But looking beyond the crisis we should be clear: ‘business-as-usual’ as we have known it will not be a viable model for our future. Given the energy, creativity and ingenuity with which we have already met the demands of this crisis, nor should it be.

Over the coming months we will continue to innovate, to make radical changes to the way we work and the services we provide and to meet the changed expectations of our audiences.

When the government’s COVID Alert Level reduces to the point where ‘normal’ operations might resume, we will be a different organisation with a different offer.

As we contemplate a post-COVID world, in which social distancing and other currently necessary restrictions are a memory, our model will not be one of restoration, but of renewal.

Business priorities

For the next two years, we will focus on delivering changes and products that both contribute to the government response to the COVID-19 crisis and progress the transformation described in Archives for Everyone, to:

  1. Capture the record and aid legal certainty
  2. Take the collection to new audiences
  3. Realise the value of archives through research, innovation and commercial exploitation
  4. Lead the archives sector to a secure and sustainable future
  5. Change the way we work.

1. Capture the record and aid legal certainty

We are living through a unique moment in history. The decisions currently being discussed, taken, implemented and communicated by government and other public bodies are impacting on us all and will have repercussions for years to come.

Our role as a national archive is to capture and preserve this hugely varied record of our collective experience, whether Cabinet papers, social media or code. Alongside this duty to the future record, through we will play a critical role in aiding legal certainty throughout two major national events – the COVID-19 crisis and the conclusion of the implementation period following the UK’s exit from the European Union.

By March 2022, we intend to:

  • Work with other government departments to ensure, during the pandemic and in its aftermath, that records are captured, kept and transferred to The National Archives
  • Develop the infrastructure to archive the government’s response to the first global pandemic in the digital age
  • Provide access for everyone to the legislation that governs us at a time of unprecedented and rapid change to the statute book.

2. Take the collection to new audiences

Archives for Everyone challenges us to become ‘the Inclusive Archive’ and to have a bigger reach and impact. To meet the demands of this period of social distancing and physical restriction we need to accelerate our response to this challenge. Our immediate response to the lockdown – providing enhanced online access to records and events – demonstrated both a strong public appetite and the huge potential of our collection to excite and inform a mass audience.

Over the coming months, for the benefit of all of our users, we will create and take further opportunities to develop inclusive services and offers that grow and diversify our audiences.

By March 2022, we intend to:

  • Grow a bigger and more diverse audience through public engagement, partnership and collaboration
  • Enable more people to encounter our collection online, better help them to understand it, and support their participation
  • Expand online access to an increased range of digitised records, where appropriate achieving a commercial return.

3. Realise the value of archives through research, innovation and commercial exploitation

The rapid evolutions in our practice necessitated by points 1 and 2 above will be underpinned by cutting-edge research and enabled by an innovation-focussed culture. As envisaged by Archives for Everyone, the ‘21st Century national archive’ that we must become is both entrepreneurial and disruptive.

This transformation will equip us to play a bigger role, nationally and globally, in the development of new research and cultural infrastructures – critical to post COVID-19 social and economic recovery and a thriving worldwide knowledge-based economy. It will also drive the development of new products and offers for commercial exploitation.

By March 2022, we intend to:

  • Build our grants portfolio, our approach to research development and our research expertise to enable pioneering research that benefits The National Archives, our audiences and the wider economy
  • Realise increasing commercial returns from our estate, our collection, our expertise, and our intangible asset base
  • Ensure these commercial returns are invested to optimise long-term benefit.

4. Lead the archives sector to a secure and sustainable future

Archives for Everyone is driven by the conviction that archives are truly for everyone, and that archives change lives for the better. The potential impact on the archives sector of COVID-19 is significant and this crisis requires an approach to leadership that is agile and responsive.

Our role supporting and sustaining the nation’s matchless network of archives to secure its future is critical. Through our leadership we aim to preserve archival heritage, enhance the skills and diversity of the archives profession and build innovation and resilience in archive services throughout the country.

By March 2022, we intend to:

  • Through partnership, work to safeguard the nation’s archival heritage from threats presented by the current crisis
  • Develop and deliver professional development opportunities, resources and training that create new skills, open up new routes into the profession and enhance the diversity and social mobility of the archives sector workforce
  • Reshape our approach to sector leadership to meet the demands of the post-lockdown world, supporting archives services to increase their capability and sustainability and adapt their service models.

5. Change the way we work

In Archives for Everyone we committed to changing our culture and approach so that in all we do we better reflect and represent the society we serve. The quality of our collective response to the COVID-19 situation, driven by the resourcefulness, resilience and adaptability of our staff, has already changed our organisation. While necessitated by a crisis, our positive embrace of 21st Century working has opened up new possibilities.

As we look beyond COVID-19, we see fresh opportunities for cultural, technical and institutional renewal. The National Archives, nearly 200 years on from its founding as the Public Record Office, has never been needed more. As its current custodians, we will ensure that it is in the best possible shape to continue its historic mission and to be a national archive for everyone.

By March 2022, we intend to:

  • Refresh our Values and develop a new People Strategy
  • Take positive action to improve representation
  • Through our new People Strategy, build a culture and technical infrastructure that enables and supports 21st Century working.

Departmental expenditure

You can find out how we spend our money across departments within our organisation, where we receive funding and what income we generate by visiting our How we spend public money web pages.

Information strategy and transparency

We want to ensure that we can be held accountable as we deliver our strategic priorities – see our Transparency pages for further information.
We will continue to explore ways to make this information even easier to access and understand.