Record DNA

RecordDNA, an international multidisciplinary network funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC), is exploring the question ‘In the digital era what is the concept of the record and what implications are there for the usability of the future the evidence base?’

Scholars and members of the public rely on records (e.g. birth/death certificates, census and court records) as the evidence base for research. So too do policy-makers, those conducting inquiries and politicians to inform decision-making and debate, to hold the executive to account. These records need to be original, authentic and useable. However, a major issue facing society is the extent to which the digital evidence base is at risk because the concept of the digital record has been challenged. In the digital world the record comprises the granular objects that are scattered yet linked e.g. chains of emails or tweets. Many copies may exist with unclear authorship or the definitive original may disappear into a seemingly infinite cyberspace. If there are no ‘original’ records in the digital space what does this mean for the future evidence base?

Bringing together practitioners and academics from different sectors, disciplines and countries, the aim is to explore the nature of the DNA of a digital record and work towards a new conceptualisation that more adequately facilitates its management, and to identify research needed to ensure the future digital evidence base is usable to best effect through time.

Project Beneficiaries

The long term beneficiaries of the project are the users of future archives who include governments, policy-makers, decision makers, business, independent researchers and the millions who use records online for family and local history research. The outcome will facilitate the usability of the digital record, the importance of which has been demonstrated by, for example, the Hillsborough, Bloody Sunday and Goddard Inquiries. The more immediate beneficiaries will be academics and practitioners spanning the archives and records management discipline, cognate information and computer science disciplines (information systems, computer forensics, cybersecurity), law (e-discovery, information rights law), history and social science. The intended benefits are securing the digital evidence base for them and gaining new insight into the DNA of records through multidisciplinary discussion.

Project Team

PI: Professor Julie McLeod, iSchool, Dept. Computer & Information Sciences, Northumbria University

Co-I: Dr Elizabeth Lomas, Department of Information Studies, University College London

Steering Committee

Ron Donaldson - knowledge ecologist and events facilitator

Dr David Erdos - Lecturer in law and internet governance, Cambridge University 

Dr Valerie Johnson – Director of Research and Collections, The National Archives 

John Sheridan - Digital Director, The National Archives 

Dr David Thomas - former Director of Technology at TNA and Visiting Professor, Northumbria University 

Prof Jane Winters - Professor of Digital Humanities, School of Advanced Study, University of London 

Project Supporter

The National Archives, Kew, London, UK



Workshop 1, 30 March 2017, UCL


Invited experts and stakeholders identify key issues and perspectives about the future usability of the digital evidence base. More info here


Crowdsourcing through social media, June 2017


A wiki survey ranking the risks to managing the digital evidence base through time. Another wiki survey to identify the components of a digital evidential record and then rank their significance. 


Workshop 2, 20 July 2017, Northumbria University


A ‘think-tank’ of selected cross-disciplinary experts dissect the digital record DNA, distil the issues and identify the research questions and agenda. More info here.


Crowdsourcing through social media, Oct 2017


A survey gathering input into to shape a research agenda for both academia and practice.


Public event, 30 Nov 2017, Westminster, London


A wider audience hear about the importance of RecordNDA from Nick Thomas-Symonds MP, Co-Chair of the All Parliamentary Group on Archives and History and Sir Alex Allan, author of two reports on government recordkeeping. See report one and report two. Ideas gathered about potential infographic outputs.


Reports and Publications

Outputs from all events available on the network blog.

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