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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Social media in the Canadian government : an exploratory study of emerging practice Shaffer, Elizabeth M.


Records held in national and institutional archives can serve as instruments of accountability and transparency for government actions (or inaction) and aid in constructing social memory. As digital technologies advance, records that were traditionally analogue are increasingly generated within networked digital platforms. In efforts contribute to archival and records theory on social media and accountability, this dissertation investigates emergent practices in the Government of Canada’s (GC) early use of social media, (2013–2014), when agencies and public servants were in the nascent stages of adoption. This study undertakes a qualitative examination of two main areas of the GC’s social media use: social media and recordkeeping practices and their implications for records generation and retention, and policy instruments and frameworks regarding the role of information management and recordkeeping in its social media use and outputs. Empirical data gathered included 28 interview participants, 34 legislative and policy instruments, online and offline observations, and 35 documentary sources, which were analyzed using a practice lens—introducing the utility of a practice lens for archival research. The main objectives of the study were to gain an understanding of the relationships between social media practices, policy, and information management and recordkeeping practices in the GC during an early phase of social media adoption and to contribute to the archival and records theory discourse surrounding shifting social media and recordkeeping practices and the implications for records as instruments of accountability. Findings suggest that emerging social media practices at that time put a strain on existing government frameworks, particularly with regard to retaining, collecting, and preserving its own records and records under its collections mandate. Despite implementing social media, findings also indicate that GC social media adoption and use operated in a bureaucratic environment that struggled to effectively adopt the ethos of these platforms (e.g. horizontal collaborations, ease of information access, etc.). The research surfaced constraints in policy development: policies intended to support increased collaboration were challenged by a hierarchical decision-making model. Moving forward, this research suggests an agile approach to policy development and an exploration of global treaty approaches in exploration of social media platform governance models.

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