Much has been written about ethical and human-centred Information Systems (IS) design, most recently regarding the deleterious outcomes and negative affect of some machine learning applications that embed and perpetuate unethical or even inhumane automation. Terms such as ‘harm’, ‘damage’, and surprisingly, ‘weapon’ have entered the language of this discourse. However, these characteristics are not unique to applications of data science but have long manifested in IS that can also can exhibit opacity and establish tight vicious cycles. These, when coupled with a lack of governance feedback, can perpetuate injustice that has community or sector-wide reach. In this paper, we explore how IS design that sets out with the best of intentions or at least, conceived as a ‘neutral’ system for managing transactional information, can emerge as ‘tools that punish’. We argue that there are crucial principles to be taken from Recordkeeping Informatics, concerned as it is with the entanglement of information and people across space and through time on multi-generational timescales. In particular we discuss how transdisciplinary and critical approaches are necessary to cover more of the design space and surface issues, rights, stakeholders, and, most importantly, values that may be otherwise hidden from a here-and-now, transactional viewpoint.
This paper presents the aims and findings of two research projects-Rights in Records by Design and Indigenous Archiving and Cultural Safety-making particular reference to the ways in which Australia's current child welfare systems and their recordkeeping and archival praxis have been indelibly shaped by colonization and its legacies, which persist into the twenty-first century. We posit that the classist, heteropatriarchal, sexist and racist colonial constructs of child welfare, the neglected and criminal child, and Indigeneity persist to this day and continue to be embodied in the form and content of records and archives, as well as in the principles and values embedded in recordkeeping and archival systems. The paper begins with discussion of framing concepts drawn from records continuum theory and critical theory, followed by an overview of both projects. We then explore in-depth findings of the Rights Charter, Historical Justice, and Educational components of Rights in Records by Design and Indigenous Archiving and Cultural Safety with particular attention to colonial values and negative constructs of childhood and Indigeneity, respectively, and their impacts from colonial times to the present. Importantly, we discuss the intersection of constructs of childhood and Indigeneity with colonial values and constructs embedded in recordkeeping and archiving systems. We note that the primary purpose of recordkeeping in colonial times was to provide critical infrastructure that enabled imperial control and exploitation. Consequently, we point to the need for childhood recordkeeping and archiving itself to be decolonized, to embody constructs of the child as having agency and rights, and, in turn, to play its part in decolonizing childhood. Finally, we discuss the contributions that each project is making to decolonizing recordkeeping and archiving theory and practice, and the potential for decolonized recordkeeping and archiving to play their part in decolonizing childhood for children in out-of-home Care and Indigenous Australian children caught up in the Indigenous child welfare system, respectively.