“Ghosting” and Other Techniques to Get Buy-In for Your Mandatory GCDOCS Metadata

We often tout the benefits of a metadata-driven EDRMS implementation for findability, and too often neglect the other advantage it can offer: consistency. Even just a handful of relevant tags applied uniformly across an enterprise system can make a massive impact in the quality of digital information and records management within an organization.

But developing your theoretical model is only the first step. The tricky part comes when you need to get buy-in for your approach from a disparate base of users and clients. When trying to sell “consistency” or an “enterprise-wide approach”, users may often only picture the words “inflexible” or “shoe-horning”.

The elegance and beauty of a metadata-based GCDOCS implementation is that, by placing the burden of consistency onto controlled metadata rather than on folders or naming conventions, it becomes possible to be flexible in nearly every other aspect of the architecture. The following techniques demonstrate some of the specific ways consistent metadata can actually allow for greater flexibility in other areas and help get user buy-in.

  1. Ghosting“. This simple approach entails abbreviating a piece or pieces of the visible information architecture to make it more amenable to the user. In a folder based system such as GCDOCS, the metadata inheritance features mean that you can enforce a lot of standards and consistency “in the background” without insisting that the user to click through a folder or menu item for every piece that is applied. I have found that clients are much more willing to accept the formal structure of a metadata hierarchy if you can compromise on the depth and complexity of a mandatory folder structure. For instance, a client may be willing to accept multiple mandatory metadata tags if they can have it all applied automatically to a limited set of folders rather than forcing them to click through layers of unnecessary folders simply because they mimic a “standard”.
  2.  Meaningful folder names. This technique involves giving way on the names of one element to a user-preferred variation while ensuring the standard metadata is still in-place behind the scenes. An object or folder could be called “Group X Plans and Strategies” while the standardized activity name of “Planning” is applied in the background.
  3.  “Choose your own adventure”. Inevitably in any organization, you will find that different clients have radically different ideas about the appropriate “entry-points” for their information. In a folder-based EDRMS like GCDOCS, some groups will prefer to navigate a structure based on their organization, while others may prefer a program or service based breakdown. With a metadata approach you can be flexible in this regard – so long as you capture the mandatory metadata at some point and in some way. What is captured at the 3rd level of a folder hierarchy for one unit may be captured at the 5th for another. From an IM perspective, the important information will always be accessible to the organization as a whole via the metadata – so that local folders, naming conventions, or organizational structures can be as unique as they need to be to satisfy users.
  4.  Templates. Users who want or need a high degree of control over their information may insist on the authority to create their own structures. I have often seen this in the case of multiple projects within a program that change or multiple with high frequency. They want to control their structure but you need to capture specific metadata. In this case, providing a pre-set template with the correct metadata attached can serve as a compromise. They can then “copy and rename” it as many times as required with the confidence that the correct and consistent tags are baked into the template.
  5. Usability metadata in addition to IM/RM metadata. In an ideal architecture, every piece of metadata would have equal parts IM value and user relevance. This is rarely the case, and often the more a tag speaks to a specific user group the less it can function as an enterprise-wide standard. Just because some metadata has to be painstakingly consistent, it doesn’t mean that every piece has to be.  Often including a meaningful (though controlled) set of “usability” tags can make up for the required narrowness when it comes to the strictly IM/RM pieces. When less focused on IM and more focused on vocabulary specifically meaningful to users, user-focused metadata that can be broader and more readily modified by clients will not only help with findability. Metadata like this can often excite users and pacify the inevitable disagreements about the exclusive or “mandatory” pieces by proffering a multiplicity of tags with options like mix and match or multi-select etc.

No matter how orthodox your RM/IM methodology may be, in the end consistency is entirely dependent on the users who file and work with the system. By being flexible and creative rather than dogmatic you can convince users of the value of consistency – and in GCDOCS, a metadata-driven approach allows for just that amount of freedom.


Jason Abdelhadi is an information management professional who has had experience doing IM work for both the federal government and in charitable organizations. He has worked on a variety of IM initiatives including enterprise information architecture, GCDOCS and EDRMS implementations, IRBV identification as well as user experience design and testing. Jason has a multifaceted educational background that speaks to interests in information technology, library and information science and the humanities.


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