Technical considerations

During the course of a public inquiry staff will create and manage large volumes of digital information in varying file formats. An increasingly important element of The National Archives’ role is to collect, preserve and make available digital information of historical significance. This includes information created by inquiries and, therefore, inquiry staff will need to select and review their digital files in preparation for transferring them to The National Archives or other appropriate government department.

Some of this information will be created and held on the web. The National Archives will capture the inquiry website as part of the UK Government Web Archive, and we have written some guidelines to help create your website to facilitate this process. Please see our guidance on creating an official public inquiry website.

It is an important principle that the selection of records for permanent preservation should be conducted irrespective of the format in which these records are held. The National Archives will always try to accept records in their native format. However, inquiry staff should understand that technical limitations surrounding the review and transfer of digital information can make the process complex and potentially time-consuming. In order to make this process more efficient for public inquiries, The National Archives recommends that the following points are considered:

  • Choose ‘standard’ formats for the documents you produce. This will make it easier for you to work with, publish and share information, and for us to collect, preserve and provide access to it.
  • If your inquiry receives or produces information in other formats (such as films, photographs or recordings), discuss your choice of technology with The National Archives (or other intended repository) as soon as possible so that potential issues can be investigated.
  • The National Archives’ transfer metadata requirements for the digital records you send to us are minimal (file name, creation date, folder structure, whether the record is open or closed). You should, however, assess what additional metadata you require for your own business purposes (which could include fields such as author, subject, access rights, protective marking, sensitivity, date and so on).
  • Ensure that any system you use to manage your digital information meets your needs, including your need to identify and select records for permanent preservation and review them to identify the nature of any continuing sensitivities that might delay their release. The tools you require will include effective search functionality for quick retrieval of information and a usable export mechanism, so that the original files and their metadata can be exported at the end of the inquiry.
  • Record the copyright of any evidence that is submitted, or any material that is published on the inquiry website. Identify any licensing issues that might prohibit re-use or release of the evidence post the inquiry.
  • The inquiry website will be captured as part of The National Archives’ web archiving service. This process requires plenty of time in order to resolve any technical issues, and it is therefore recommended that The National Archives be involved at least three months prior to the winding up of the inquiry (and preferably as soon as the inquiry team is established). The National Archives will take regular crawls of inquiry websites and quality-assure the data to ensure continued access to the information. Where appropriate, you should publish open records and information on your website as the inquiry progresses.
  • Inquiries that last a considerable length of time will need to ensure that digital information remains usable. Unlike paper records, digital records are vulnerable and will not survive without active management and migration. Please see our digital continuity guidance (below) for further information.

Find out more:

Technical guidance for inquiries and inquests (PDF, 0.08MB)

Managing digital continuity