Improving Customer Experience with Digital Personas

Keeping the customer’s needs front and center is important when developing new digital tools. We recently developed a set of user personas as part of our work to establish a more robust—and data informed—understanding of the individuals that engage digitally with the National Archives (NARA).

User personas are fictional, but realistic representations of key audience segments that are grounded in research and data. We recently applied customer data from a variety of sources including website analytics and online surveys to inform the creation of eight personas that represent our digital customers: Researchers, Veterans, Genealogists, Educators, History Enthusiasts, Curious Nerds, Museum Visitors, and Government Stakeholders. These personas not only help us capture knowledge about our customers and their needs and preferences, but also help NARA staff empathize with the individuals who use our services. User personas are often used by designers and developers to place the customer’s perspectives and needs at the center of the digital design and development process.

When conducting research to develop the individual personas, we took an analytical approach using data from our web and social media analytics, our online customer satisfaction survey, and incoming emails from customers. Additionally, we interviewed NARA staff that often interact with the user types we were trying to understand, in order to get their insight and feedback.

While fictional, these personas represent our major user groups and help us keep their needs and expectations at the forefront of our decision making. Each persona consists of two pages: the first page provides a snapshot of the user’s demographics and a quote to help bring the persona to life, while the second page provides user stories that help us to better understand how this audience interacts with NARA and why.

For example, as shown on the first page of our Genealogist persona, Mildred Mapleton, we can understand what digital platforms she uses and features she likes, how tech savvy she is, and what websites and search words she uses to find what she’s looking for:

Mildred, like all of our user personas, is not an actual person, but a realistic representation of one of NARA’s key audience segments. Her character is based on research and backed by evidence. Although the data gives us a good outline of who she is, the specifics you see here that make Mildred feel like a real, well-rounded person are semi-fictional and shaped by educated assumptions.

The second page of each persona provides user stories that describe who the user is, what they want, and why. They are written in the format: “As a <type of person>, I want <some goal> so that <some reason>.”

As shown on the second page of our Veteran persona, Victor Williams, we know that as a veteran who has submitted a request for records, Victor wants to easily determine the status so he knows how long he will have to wait to receive the paperwork. Each persona has multiple user stories associated with it to help NARA think about the various ways in which key audience segments interact with us digitally:

These representations of our customers are based on quantitative data (e.g., metrics about web pages viewed, social media use) and qualitative user research (e.g., online surveys). It is very important to remember that a persona is a composite representation of the prevalent qualities of an audience segment and will not exactly match a specific person or comprehensively describe the full diversity of a group.

These personas will be used to improve NARA’s customers’ digital experience. The ultimate goal is that every time a project with a digital component is discussed at NARA, these personas will be used to inform decision making. By identifying the personas that we work with most often and referring to them when thinking about new and better ways to serve them, we can work to better inform and prioritize our work and better understand customer interactions across all of our digital properties.

Learn more and meet the complete list of digital personas on archives.gov.

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JFK 100 Centennial Celebration

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of President John F. Kennedy. In commemoration of this centennial, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum will be hosting a series of events and activities throughout the year.

JFK 100: Milestones & Mementos is the newest exhibition at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, opening on Friday, May 26 at 11:00 am. This exhibition chronicles historic milestones in the President’s career and administration, as well as the events of his personal and family life. Discover all of the JFK100 events and activities during the centennial celebration: learn more about the legacy of JFK, explore and contribute to the “Where in the World is JFK?” interactive map, find an event near you, and see how the National Archives is celebrating throughout the year.

Join us today for #JFK100 Social Media Day! Throughout the day, the National Archives will join other archives, museums, and cultural organizations to celebrate the 100th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s birth.

Learn about the life, Presidency, and legacy of JFK through social media activities hosted by the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums) community. Experts will be on hand to talk about the impact of President Kennedy, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, and the Kennedy White House. Whether your interests are in science and innovation, arts and culture, public service, civil rights, or peace and diplomacy, there will be so much for you to explore!

Explore the full schedule of events and activities.

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Celebrating Public Service Recognition Week

Today we celebrated Public Service Recognition Week with our annual 2017 Archivist’s Achievement Awards Program. Since 1985, the first week of May has been set aside to honor the men and women who serve our nation as Federal, state, county, and local government employees. The Archivist’s Awards Ceremony provides the opportunity to thank all staff for their passion and dedication to serving the mission of the National Archives and the American people.

Because the good work of this agency takes place in all our facilities across the nation, we sent NARA executives to Valmeyer, Lee’s Summit, Denver, San Francisco, Fort Worth, Seattle, as well as the Carter and Nixon Presidential Libraries and the Ford Presidential Museum so they could congratulate Archivist’s Award winners in person.

Just about every day I receive comments praising the work of NARA staff, so this year we gave our customers a chance to directly sing their praises. Throughout the ceremony, we featured videos of researchers and customers thanking our staff and sharing how they benefit from the work that we do.

The Archivist’s Awards Ceremony is important to me. This event honors the remarkable work that happens at this agency every single day. And it gives me the opportunity to highlight some of our staff’s amazing accomplishments.

NARA staff disposed of a LOT of temporary records; expedited requests for World War II military service verifications; declassified and released 113,000 pages of withheld records; transferred the electronic Presidential records of the Obama administration; planned and executed the Obama Presidential Library temporary site; cut the aging rate of records at Archives II by 45 percent; ensured the protection and repair of records after a fire incident; and closed the 10 oldest FOIA requests. And these are just a few examples!

This year, we had 66 nominations for awards. Today, we recognized our colleagues who gave their time and talents to make the National Archives a great place to work. We recognized colleagues who went above and beyond expectations and succeeded in ways not intended. View all of the award winners in the 2017 Archivist’s Achievement Awards Program.

I also took a moment to remember our six colleagues who passed away this past year: Kahlil Chism, Terryll Lumpkin, Joseph Doucette, Jerry H. Griffith, Marilyn Redman, and Cathryn Westfeldt. We acknowledge their lasting contributions to the work of the National Archives.

Congratulations to this year’s recipients. And I thank you each of you who protect, release, move, store, process, dispose, transfer, declassify, exhibit, digitize, and promote our records and support our staff in all that they do.

It takes every one of us working together as a team in pursuit of NARA’s mission to successfully provide access to Federal records. Especially in times of budgetary uncertainty, it is important to remind ourselves of the importance of our mission. Democracy depends upon the work that we do.

Thank you for your service.

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An Update on FOIA Improvement

The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) in the National Archives drives improvements to the federal government’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process by serving as a neutral party to help resolve disputes between FOIA requesters and agencies, and also by reviewing and identifying strategies to improve agency FOIA compliance. By carrying out these dual missions, OGIS is uniquely situated to understand FOIA issues from the perspective of agencies and requesters and make recommendations to improve the FOIA process for all of the stakeholders  As I blogged about last summer, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 further strengthened and solidified the office’s role as the FOIA Ombudsman.

Since October 1, 2016, OGIS has been contacted by customers for assistance with FOIA requests more than 2,500 times.  These requests for assistance range from simple questions about how the FOIA process works to complex matters involving information that an agency is withholding. Over the same time period, OGIS has also issued targeted recommendations to strengthen the FOIA programs at the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the Privacy Office, which has Department-wide responsibility for setting FOIA policy.

Office of Government Information Services Sunshine Week Program. David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States (right), and Dr. Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, answer questions at a dialogue about access to the nation’s treasures at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., on 3/13/17. NARA photo by Jess Deibert.

OGIS’s dispute resolution and compliance programs are supported and influenced by robust outreach efforts that ensure the office is constantly learning more about our customer’s views and issues with the FOIA process. I recently had the pleasure of helping to kick off a series of OGIS events in the William G. McGowan Theater that reflect the office’s engagement of the community and special role in the FOIA process.

The morning of April 20, 2017, I gave opening remarks at OGIS’s first annual Open Meeting. The purpose of the meeting is to allow the public to comment on the office’s reviews and reports. After an informational presentation on OGIS’s recent work given by the office’s Director, Alina M. Semo, several members of the public made comments on the office’s work. The comments made during the session covered diverse topics such as the link between the National Archives’ ongoing work to improve agencies’ management of electronic records—especially email—to a good FOIA process, and the increase in demand for OGIS’s dispute resolution services. In addition to posting video of the event and a transcript, OGIS is also posting the written comments they receive. If you have any feedback for the office, please direct your comments to ogis@nara.gov.

After the public comment period for the Open Meeting ended and a short break, we reconvened so that I could greet the audience for the quarterly meeting of the FOIA Advisory Committee.  I authorized the creation of the FOIA Advisory Committee by signing its initial two-year Charter on May 20, 2014, and renewed the Committee for an additional two-year term on July 21, 2016. The Committee brings together an equal mix of FOIA expertise from inside and outside of government to address FOIA’s greatest challenges. OGIS’s Director, Alina M. Semo, serves as the Committee’s Chair and OGIS staff provides the Committee with administrative support.

During its current term, the FOIA Advisory Committee has chosen to focus on three issues that reflect how technology has changed significantly the way government operates and the public’s expectations for access. Confronting these issues and developing consensus solutions is critical for the long-term health of the government’s FOIA process. The three issues are:

  • Search – In order to release records that are responsive to a FOIA request, agencies must first be able to find them; this task is complicated by the growth in the number of electronic records agencies produce each year. The Search Subcommittee is evaluating how agencies search for records, and what practices are the most effective.
  • Proactive Disclosure and Accessibility – The Proactive Disclosures and Accessibility Subcommittee is investigating strategies for reducing pressure on the FOIA system by releasing agency records in advance of a request. This Subcommittee is also looking at steps FOIA programs need to take to ensure records are accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Efficiencies and Resources – The Efficiencies and Resources Subcommittee is researching strategies agencies can use to make the best use of their FOIA program’s resources.

The subcommittees provide updates and discuss their work at the quarterly meetings. These meetings have also proven to be great opportunities to hear from guest speakers about particular areas of interest; during the April 20th meeting, a guest speaker from the Department of Justice spoke about the use of high-powered e-discovery tools in the FOIA process. The speaker, Doug Hibbard, shared some great insights into how these tools can improve the efficiency and efficacy of an agency’s search for responsive records. These presentations help inform the Committee’s understanding of the issues. As the current term of the FOIA Advisory Committee approaches the one-year mark, I am looking forward to hearing more about their findings, and reviewing their recommendations.

If you are interested in learning more about OGIS’s role in improving the FOIA process, I encourage you to check their regularly-updated blog, The FOIA Ombudsman. You can also keep up with their work and the latest news from the FOIA Advisory Committee by following @FOIA_Ombuds on Twitter.

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Senior Agency Officials for Records Management

The National Archives recently hosted a meeting of Senior Agency Officials for Records Management (SAORM) and agency records officers from across the federal government. This meeting covered progress and plans for modernizing Federal recordkeeping and implementing strategic records management mandates and priorities.

I was pleased to greet so many Senior Agency Officials for Records Management here at the National Archives. For many, this was their first meeting in the new Presidential Administration.

These senior officials have direct responsibility for ensuring their department or agency efficiently and appropriately complies with all applicable records management statutes, regulations, NARA policy, and the requirements of the Managing Government Records Directive.

Under the direction of Laurence Brewer, Chief Records Officer of the United States, our Office of the Chief Records Officer does great work every day engaging with the SAORM community and ensuring that all SAORMs, especially those newly appointed, are briefed and ready to step into their critical roles in ensuring records and information are managed appropriately across the Federal government. The Office of the Chief Records Officer also completes important work collecting and analyzing the SAORM and agency reports on records management. It’s one of the ways we understand how much progress has been made in improving records management in agencies and how far we have to go.

Federal agencies and officials must remain aware of the laws, regulations, and guidance governing how records and information are identified and managed in compliance with the Federal Records Act. Managing government records is essential not only to ensure agency activities are documented in order to meet legal requirements, but also to preserve our history for future generations. Properly executed, records management increases the efficiency and effectiveness of every government activity by ensuring that federal employees can find what they need, when they need it.

SAORMs bear a special responsibility for ensuring their agencies meet these obligations. In particular, we rely on agency SAORMs to ensure that the political appointees and agency heads are properly informed of their records management responsibilities. We want all agencies to be successful in meeting these responsibilities, and to help drive the change needed to modernize recordkeeping in the Government as envisioned in the 2012 Managing Government Records Directive. To achieve this goal, records management must be a critical component of every agency’s overall information governance strategy.

At this meeting, I shared this brief video with our SAORMs describing the records management responsibilities political appointees should be aware of when entering, working in, and leaving Federal Service:

We are pleased to have such an engaged community of Senior Agency Officials for Records Management continuing to improve records management across the federal government. I thank all the SAORMs for their attendance and for their consideration of how they can be advocates for records management in their respective agencies to elevate its profile and importance.

For additional guidance, please consult the following resources:

Documenting Your Public Service: https://www.archives.gov/records-mgmt/publications/documenting-your-public-service.html

Records Management Guidance for Political Appointees: https://www.archives.gov/files/records-mgmt/publications/rm-for-political-appointees.pdf

Records Express blog: https://records-express.blogs.archives.gov/2016/11/16/records-management-guidance-for-the-presidential-transition/

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Commemorating the Great War

April 6, 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I. As the largest repository of American World War I records, the National Archives holds a wealth of content and information documenting the U.S. experience in this conflict, including photographs, documents, audiovisual recordings, educational resources, articles, blog posts, lectures, and exhibits.

In commemoration of this event, we’ve launched a World War I research portal with the goal of creating a central space for all National Archives resources and content related to World War I for use by researchers, students and educators, and those curious about the War.

Here you will find World War I records organized by subject and topic area, including newly digitized photographs and films, references, subject guides and finding aids. Throughout the portal you can find links to more information such as articles, blog posts, genealogy resources and online exhibits from the National Archives and Presidential Libraries.

Learn more about the news, events, and exhibits happening at the National Archives related to World War I, and browse our interactive timeline of World War I events.

Educators can find World War I documents and lesson plans using our DocsTeach tool, and we invite you to engage with our extensive collection of World War I moving and still images using our Remembering WWI app.

The app allows people nationwide to contribute their own stories and play a part in the centennial commemoration of the First World War. Building on an amazing moving image and photographic archive being digitized and preserved as part of a larger Wartime Films Project, the app features thousands of rarely seen public domain images and films to encourage discovery and creative reuse.

The National Archives is leading this national collaborative effort with participation from the Library of Congress and National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, the WWI Centennial Commission, the American Association for State and Local History, and the National WWI Museum and Memorial. This mobile app project was made possible through a generous gift from an anonymous donor.

Would you like to help make records more discoverable? We’ve created special tagging and transcription missions and challenges using World War I content for our citizen archivists.

While many resources are available online for research, there are many more records to discover in National Archives research rooms across the country. We will be updating our research portal as new resources become available online. You can also consult our Catalog to browse more records, and contact the Reference Unit listed in each description for more information.

From April 4 through May 3, 2017, the National Archives is commemorating the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I with a featured document display in the East Rotunda Gallery of the National Archives Building. Learn more about the U.S. entry into World War I on our Prologue blog. 

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The Forgotten Irish: Irish Emigrant Experiences in America

On the eve of the American Civil War, 1.6 million Irish-born people were living in the United States, most in the major industrialized cities of the North. The stories of 35 Irish families whose lives portray the nature of the Irish emigrant experience are captured in Damian Shiels’ new book, The Forgotten Irish: Irish Emigrant Experiences in America.

The Forgotten Irish

Damian Shiels, a celebrated conflict archaeologist, historian, and author, has focused his research in the widows and dependents pension application files of the American Civil War found at the National Archives. These records often include not only letters and private correspondence between family members, but unparalleled accounts of their lives in both Ireland and America.

The National Archives’ project to digitize these valuable files has opened up an invaluable online resource for Irish social historians. The author systematically examined each of the digitized files associated with Irishmen (using surnames as a primary indicator) in order to retrieve social information. Each of the 35 stories in the book uses at least one digitized file from the National Archives as its base and builds on the family story both through other online resources and historical documentation.

The book’s existence underscores the importance of digitization and our goal to expand public access to historical holdings, and it illustrates the importance of NARA’s holdings to social historians worldwide. In the acknowledgements section of his book, the author states:

“The majority of the research undertaken for this book was conducted from Ireland. This is something that would not have been possible prior to the increased accessibility of online records that has been a hallmark of recent years. Though nothing can truly replace direct archival research, the accessibility of millions of scanned primary documents online has provided a unique opportunity for scholars, particularly those located outside the country in which they have an interest, to engage with (and hopefully contribute towards) their chosen subject.
I had the great privilege of meeting some of the NARA team whose hard work in digitizing the pension files allowed me to explore these Irish stories. They include Archives Specialist Jackie Budell, who coordinates the project. Over the years, Jackie has been a constant source of encouragement, advice, support and friendship, for which I am extremely grateful. More than any other she deserves a special note of thanks for helping this book come to fruition.”

Join us on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, Thursday, March 16, 2017 from 7:00pm to 8:30pm EST in the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives in Washington, DC for a discussion program with Damian Shiels based on his book, The Forgotten Irish. This will be the book’s launch in the United States, and the first time Damian will speak on this book in the U.S. The National Archives will be the exclusive point of sale in the U.S. for this book through May 1 when it becomes available nationwide.

Michael Hussey, a National Archives archivist and historian, and David T. Gleeson, Professor of American History at Northumbria University and author of The Green and the Gray: The Irish in the Confederate States of America, will co-moderate the discussion and audience Q&A. A book signing will follow the program.

Register to attend the event in person, or watch the livestream of the event on our YouTube channel.

Learn more about this program on our events page, and read more about Damian’s research on his blog, Irish in the American Civil War.

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Women’s History Month

Every March, the National Archives proudly observes Women’s History Month. We recognize the vast contributions women have made to our nation’s history as we explore their stories through letters, photographs, films, and other primary sources. Because the National Archives holds the records of the federal government, each day we find stories documenting the countless ways women interacted with the government and engaged with national issues of the time.

Liberty motors manufactured for government use. Electric welding on the steel jacket on a Liberty Motor cylinder. Lincoln Motor Co. plant. Detroit, Michigan. National Archives Identifier 45567610

Liberty motors manufactured for government use. Electric welding on the steel jacket on a Liberty Motor cylinder. Lincoln Motor Co. plant. Detroit, Michigan. National Archives Identifier 45567610

There are also stories of women’s history from within the National Archives building itself. In October 1975, a new exhibit opened at the National Archives to coincide with International Women’s Year and the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence. The exhibit, “Her Infinite Variety: A 200-Year Record of American Women,” ran from July 1975 to February 1976.  The exhibit examined women’s roles at home, work, in wartime, as reformers, and in public life.

Then in 1976, the National Archives hosted a ground-breaking conference devoted to women’s history, examining records pertaining to women’s history and papers that used these rich resources to demonstrate women’s contributions throughout American history. Read the full story from the National Archives History office on our Pieces of History blog.

I am proud that women currently represent 51 percent of the National Archives’ workforce and commend their tireless efforts and recognize the significant role that they play in accomplishing our mission. Additionally, I support NARA’s Employee Affinity Group (EAG) Women’s Affinity Group (WAG), whose mission is to provide information, resources, networking opportunities, promote career growth, and facilitate mentorships for women at NARA. You can follow WAG on Twitter @RecordsofWomen and on Tumblr.

Women's History Month webpage

NARA’s holdings regarding women are extensive and include documents on a wide range of subjects. You can browse our Catalog for more information about records and information documenting women’s history. Are you interested in transcribing documents to help make these records more discoverable? Celebrate the contributions of American women by transcribing records from our Women’s History Month mission. Learn more and get started on our Citizen Archivist Dashboard.

View more Women’s History resources on archives.gov.

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Guidance on Presidential and Federal Records

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has long had a special relationship with the incoming Presidential Administration, including providing archival and records management guidance and support to the White House upon request. This relationship continues throughout the Administration, until the Presidential records are transferred into the National Archives for permanent preservation in our President Library system.

guidance-on-presidential-records

The 2016 Guidance on Presidential Records is available on archives.gov. This document, which NARA has prepared for every incoming administration since 2000, provides basic background information on the Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978, as amended, 44 U.S.C. §§ 2201-2209; how the National Archives implements the PRA; and how we assist the White House in managing its records under the PRA.

NARA has also continued to engage with Federal agencies to inform them of their records management responsibilities under the Federal Records Act (FRA).  The Office of the Chief Records Officer at the National Archives has updated its Documenting Your Public Service publication and developed other resources for agencies to ensure that records management is an integral part of agency transition plans. See the Records Express blog for more information about records management guidance for the Presidential transition.

It is important to understand the distinction between Presidential records and Federal records, which are governed by the two different laws described above:

Presidential records only apply to the President, the Vice President, their immediate staff, or a unit or individual of the Executive Office of the President whose function is to advise or assist the President, in the course of conducting activities which relate to or have an effect upon the carrying out of the constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the President. (For further details, please see the Presidential Records Act.)

Federal records apply to all “federal agencies” in the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches, but do not include the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Architect of the Capitol. 

The rules governing Federal and Presidential records and their preservation have not changed since the FRA and PRA were amended in 2014, but updating and sharing our guidance is one component of the support that NARA offers to both Federal agencies and the White House, especially when a new administration begins.

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African American History at the National Archives

February is Black History Month. This month and every day, the National Archives celebrates the extraordinary contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.

The National Archives holds a wealth of material documenting the African American experience, including millions of records related to the interactions between African Americans and the Federal government. These materials are highlighted in online resources, in public programs, and throughout traditional and social media.

African American History webpage

You don’t have to live in Washington, DC or visit one of our research rooms to be inspired by the wealth of information available at the National Archives. Visit our African American History webpage to learn more about events and activities celebrating African American History. This webpage contains photographs, historical videos, articles, links to online resources for research, public programs and events, Presidential Library resources, exhibits, and much more.

You can also browse our Catalog for more information about records and holdings documenting the African American experience. Are you interested in transcribing documents to help make these records more accessible? We’ve created an African American History transcription mission in celebration of Black History Month. Learn more and get started on our Citizen Archivist Dashboard.

Questions about conducting research at the National Archives? Visit our African American History research group on History Hub. And see our Pieces of History blog for more information and resources about the National Archives holdings related to African American History.

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