The conference, held on 26 and 27 March 2015 at the Swiss Federal Archives (SFA), made it clear that a purely technical view of the interaction between ICT and administration does not tell the whole story; rather, it should be examined from an information history perspective.
Conference ICT@Admin - A. Kellerhals: Reception
The conference at the Swiss Federal Archives focused on the 20th century. Both mechanical and digital processes used in administration were discussed. The discussions showed that technological progress has been an important factor in the mechanisation and digitisation of administration work, but it is not the only one. Government policies, the changing expectations and practices of users and the production and sales strategies of hardware and software manufacturers have also played a key role. The conference thus concluded that the history of administration forms part of a general "history of information".
Three main discussion threads emerged at the conference:
- The mechanisms and challenges of technological change in and for administration
- The impact of new forms of information on administrative practices
- The relationship between information management and state control
The individual presentations repeatedly touched on these themes. James W. Cortada, for example, argued that it is misleading to talk of a "digital revolution" in the context of information technology and administration. The sweeping changes in administration since the Second World War, he said, had been shaped to a much greater extent by incremental, path-dependent transformation processes. He went on to explain how the "information ecosystems" model offers a conceptual basis for understanding the genesis of the information society.
Monika Dommann put forward the view that the forms of information that have been changed by technical innovations affect the function of documents as trusted instruments of power. Markus Krajewski used the example of trends in libraries to illustrate how the digitisation of catalogues and texts blurs the line between data and metadata. Catalogues themselves, he noted, have become data-generating systems that fundamentally alter the relationship between a library and its users.
Marion Adolf emphatically refuted the notion encouraged by "Big Data" of scientifically based central control of society, pointing out that the supposedly scientific logic of efficiency is based on ideological preconceptions. Various case studies of projects for the centralised recording of personal data showed that information management plays a central role in the conflict between the power of the state and personal privacy.
By agreement with the authors, the Swiss Federal Archives are publishing the presentations as an online document of the conference. All rights and responsibilities pertaining to the texts remain with the authors.