Below is a series of prompting questions and a list of common mitigations to get you started on your own risk assessment. As with any risk assessment, please consider your organisation’s own particular circumstances.
Areas to consider
The content of the potentially upsetting narratives
- Who is the content related to?
- Why might it be upsetting?
- Is the content written or photographic/illustrative?
The context of your work
- Are there contemporary issues related to these histories that may make them feel more pertinent today?
- Is there anything that may limit your ability to talk about this work openly?
How this information will be delivered
- Will this content be delivered in person, such as a one to one, in groups, a lecture or event? Or online via social media, in webinars, YouTube videos, in writing on a website or in a newsletter?
- How much control is there over the situation to mitigate risks?
Potential and likely audiences
- Who is likely to receive this information or engage in these discussions?
- How much contextual information, precautions for vulnerable people, and access to expertise and support structures might be needed?
- Is there safeguarding for vulnerable people and /or prepared responses for informed critical audiences?
How your service is perceived
- Are you perceived as trustworthy in the community? Or are you seen as part of the ‘establishment’, which for some communities can be associated with those who marginalise and exclude in these narratives? Are you considered a trusted source of information?
Available resources for mitigations
- Do you have trained and informed staff to support discussions? Do you have time to pre-prepare responses, to conduct research and to consult?
- Do you have an HR department to help create and manage policies to protect staff? Are you operating alone without ready access to a team or other colleagues? If so, how can networking support you?
Likelihood of these risks happening
- After considering many of the above you can see that there is a higher or lower likeliness of certain things happening. Create priority lists to mitigate against likely risks with potential to have a large negative impact.
- Acknowledge in advance that online spaces, forums, apps, platforms and communication channels are high-risk environments when communicating potentially upsetting histories. Control over replication is lost as users can screenshot and redistribute content in different contexts without maintaining the mitigations put in place.
- Conduct Equality Impact Assessments to identify barriers to participation, and enable participation by taking reasonable steps to remove these barriers.
- Communicate commitment to equality and inclusion with stakeholders. Share actions, progress and receive feedback.
- Avoid personal and social harm by informing people in advance of potentially upsetting content, whether this is with content notes, content warnings or trigger warnings. Consider things like a digital watermark notice on images and/or text (where appropriate or permissible) which clearly indicates the institution has considered and recognised the content as potentially upsetting.
- Read and provide (or seek) training on the contents of the Equalities Act, deepening understanding of personal and institutional responsibilities. Refer to and reiterate Public Sector Equality Duty 2011 and the public sector’s enhanced duty to battle inequality and foster connection across lived experiences.
- Protect confidentiality by non-disclosure of identity or personal information, and follow data protection guidance. Seek explicit consent when gathering, receiving or sharing stories related to lived experiences from staff and archival service users, ideally before they agree to participate in work requiring emotional labour.
- Do not seek to defend language or actions relating to past or contemporary discrimination or marginalisation.
- Create and share clear statements on potentially offensive language in archives, why it may be preserved and repeated, but also clarity that its presence isn’t an endorsement of use; it is preserved for transparency and is not being encouraged or justified.
Staff and audience wellbeing
- Conduct ongoing reviews of mental health and wellbeing support in the workplace to meet the needs of evolving conversations and content. Have clear accessible HR guidelines on mental health support.
- Do not show images of violence against people and/or living things unless it’s essential, needed, requested and is a consensual choice. All images and their use are subject to ethical consideration first, with a clearly defined purpose. Give clear notice on the content and context before the images are used.
- Do not objectify service users, staff, or people to whom records relate, based only on elements of their identity. Focus communication less on people’s identities and more on themes, or moments in time.
- Recognise that current events can and do directly impact staff and stakeholder decision-making. Acknowledge that service users will potentially disagree with the service’s choices around inclusive practice.
- Pursue a robust understanding of the subject that archival professionals are communicating, for confidence and clarity.
- Consider physical and emotional space and time for all parties involved in communication around potentially upsetting histories. Prepare for and support potential anger, sadness or distrust as a part of the process and allocate space to manage emotional responses.
- Consider having the right expertise involved in advance of approaching new projects, particularly people who can articulate lived experience, academic knowledge and/or best practice.
- Identify consultation around upsetting histories as a contribution that requires remuneration. Examine available budget and creatively engage with what is available to acknowledge this value. However, do not seek to monetise concepts of trauma within the collection and be mindful of commercial endeavours around potentially upsetting narratives.