Project Team

ICA-SUV- Ethical Archives Project 
January- March 2022 
Prepared by: Caroline Brown (University of Dundee, Scotland, UK), 
Rosa Cisneros (Coventry University, UK), 
Ellen Engseth (University of Minnesota, USA), 
Gabriele Mohale (University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa) 

The International Council on Archives - Section on University and Research Institution Archives (ICA-SUV) commissioned a three-month pilot project that was centered on Ethics and Archives, and  took place from January -March 2022. The project provided collegial conversation and discussion, followed by a digital resource made available via the ICA-SUV website. On the theme of ethics for archivists in university and research institutions, and building upon the vibrant conversation and successful 2021 ICA-SUV conference, “Archives, Ethics and Society”, the March 2022 conversations were held in both English and Spanish and centered on concepts, practices and the language we use within three themes: Archives, Ethics and Communities; Archives, Ethics and Civil Society; and Archives and Ethics in Practice.

Three  themes:
  • Archives, Ethics and Communities; 
  • Archives, Ethics and Civil Society;
  • Archives and Ethics in Practice.

ICA-SUV, with funding support from the ICA Programme Commission, welcomed Rosa Cisneros as a consultant to lead the discussions. Rosa Cisneros is a professional dancer, curator, dance historian, Romani studies scholar and peace activist.  She currently works at Coventry University’s Centre for Dance Research where she is one of the ethics leads for the Centre. She has over 20 years experience as a professional  consultant and has experience in building archives. She brings conceptual grounding to debates around decolonising dance, archives and practice research and through her consultancy work she ensures ethical and equitable practices are maintained. 

Spanish LabDay Recording:
English LabDay Recording:

LabDay Methodology

The LabDay methodology has been used in several EU projects that engage key stakeholders directly into the research. This tested and proven method goes beyond transactional focus group methods as it engages and inspires participants to embed themselves in research, and this is important when trying to include youth and hard to reach communities and stakeholders often removed from the decision-making processes. This framework is underpinned by Communicative Methodology (CM), a sociological method that aims to cross social, cultural and linguistic boundaries. This framework enables an open, egalitarian dialogue between researchers and participants; it is a collaboratively-held space where all voices are acknowledged and valued and stakeholders can reflect together on their needs, desires and various forms of participation. This bottom-up approach enables cultural communities to themselves become a driver for the outputs.

Why did the LabDay lend itself to the ICA-SUV Ethics and Archives project?  Since the team was keen to include voices from across the globe, we needed to find a method that would be inclusive, and could allow for dialogical and egalitarian conversations to emerge while also being a call to action. The LabDay has a flexibility built into it as it allows individuals from multiple backgrounds to share their experiences and to offer solutions to a “problem” or gaps in understanding and brings forward case studies and other ways of knowing. The LabDay also relies on what has been termed as a provocation, which could be thought of as an open-ended invitation to explore, wonder, spark interest, stimulate thought and encourage questioning.  The aim of the provocation is to inspire and to encourage dialogue, share thoughts and ideas on a topic. 

LabDays have a Global Reach

Underpinning the Ethics and Archives project, the team decided to curate four LabDays, two in English and two in Spanish. This approach allowed the team to reach across continents and invite multiple voices, opinions, and expertise, and also be inclusive and accessible to many.  

The LabDays had a global reach where the English LabDays had colleagues from India, South Africa, and Scotland present and participants joined from the UK, the USA,  Spain, Germany, Jerusalem, India, Nigeria, Canada, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Portugal, Cyprus and Greece. For the Spanish LabDay there were presentations from Colombia, Spain, Argentina and participants from Jerusalem, the UK, Portugal,  South Africa, Argentina, Spain and Colombia were in the audience. Links to recorded conversations, details on responses from padlets and also the feedback from participants are included in this document.  

English LabDays (1st March & 25th March, 2022)

The first LabDay for the English-speaking community was held March 2nd, 2022 online via Zoom. Cisneros was supported by her colleague Kauser Husain from C-DaRE and the two hosted the event that welcomed Gabriele Mohale, Ranjani Prasad, Venkat Srinivasan and Faisal Rehman. The guests were nominated by the team and Cisneros engaged with each to explain the concept of the LabDay. The first event was a non-public event which allowed for an initial exploration of the three themes with a small number of participants who would then go on to help facilitate the subsequent public LabDay.    

The guests invited were:
Gabriele MOHALE[1] (South Africa)-  is the Acting Head and Archivist at the Historical Papers Researcher Archive, University of the Witwatersrand, which is instrumental in accentuating the role and status of archives in civil society, with events and initiatives around Archives and Democracy.

Ranjani Prasad[2] (India) has been involved with archival practice, research and curation over the last decade. Her interests are at the intersections of histories, communities, technologies. She is presently part of the People and Nature Collectives at Keystone Foundation, Kotagiri, Nilgiris.
Faisal Rehman[3] (India) is a researcher at Keystone Foundation, working with the People and Nature Collectives at Kotagiri, Nilgiris; with interests in public history, community representation, and the politics of knowledge flows and ownership.
Venkat Srinivasan[4] (India) is an archivist at the Archives at NCBS (Bangalore, India), a public collecting centre for the history of contemporary biology in India.

The four individuals presented themselves and framed their perspective and archival practice and then offered provocations. 

[1] Gabriele Mohale: Function: Acting Head, Historical Papers Research Archive
[2] Ranjani Prasad: ​​
[3] Faisal Rehman:
[4] Venkat Srinivasan:

Mohale was the first to present and anchored the conversation in terminology and questioned the role of empathy, custodians and the role terminology plays in uniting as well as in being a source of contestation.

Mohale also reflected on the point that language and terms should be diverse, honouring multiple perspectives and types of archival practices but the question about how to do so and the manner that we negotiate values remained a topic of discussion. After Mohale, Sirivansian presented and introduced the Archives at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), a space for institutional records and a collecting public centre for the contemporary history of biology in India. 

Srinivasan's presentation focused on the role policies play within organisations and the importance or lack thereof,  and the role such documents have in developing ethical aspects of an archive. His offering reflected specifically on the tension in relation to knowledge sharing and the role digital technologies play in considering what is archived and how this is being described. His provocation also reflected on access, who owns the material and questions about audiences using the archive. 

Community Archives offer opportunities to reflect on Ethical Practices

The next and final intervention was a joint presentation by Prasad and Rehman. The duo were representing Keystone Foundation, today a hub of learning and creation. Prasad and Rehmam, also based in India, suggested that community archives offer opportunities to reflect on ethical practices. They presented three case studies from their local area and touched on the cultural geographies and questions around community archives and the oral histories that surround their projects. The two also suggested that safeguarding and policies were important and that knowledge sharing from diverse perspectives that honoured diverse language was key to developing an ethical archive.  The two rounded out the session by returning to Mohale’s questions on terminology and the role of the custodian. 

Trust and Time were essential for producing ethical archives

A conversation on trust emerged that suggested that trust and time were essential for producing ethical archives. The final discussion session allowed for a “call to action” type of thinking to emerge that touched on language revitalisation, referencing radical practices and the importance of having spaces where archivists can connect on a regular basis. The ICA-SUV Reading Group was referenced by Mohale and Srinivasan and they both found those touchpoints as essential to knowledge sharing with the broader network and encouraged contestations and definitions to be revisited. 

Final Summary from English LabDays

In summary, the themes that emerged included the use of terminology and language, questions around the role the institution plays with supporting, developing and guiding the archive, the trust within the community towards the archive and those researchers negotiating those spaces, and the power language has when negotiating archival practices. Privacy and the right to be forgotten was also mentioned and safeguarding policies and humanising archives felt important to all involved. 

Spanish LabDays (March 11th & 22nd 2022)

The guests were from varying archives and institutions and each was representing a unique perspective of the archival sector. For each LabDay we had three speakers. On the second LabDay we had the same three speakers and participants listening to the event from Jerusalem, the United States, Spain, Colombia and South Africa. 
The guests invited were:
Luisa Fernanda Mesa Aleman (Universidad de los Andes, Colombia) is a professional in Information Science – library science with a specialization in Management and Information Technology; work experience in university teaching, administration of information units, creation and management of content for social networks, web page or other corporate digital media.
Maria Celina Flores  (Memoria Abierta, Argentina) is a historian and holds a Master's degree in International Human Rights Law from the University of Buenos Aires. She has held coordination positions in documentary survey teams in the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Argentina. She currently works as coordinator of the Documentary Heritage area of ​​Memoria Abierta, a coordinating association of historical Human Rights organizations in Argentina. 

Pepita Raventós from Archives and Records Management Service, at the University of Lleida in Lleida Catalonia (Spain). Her current position includes: Archivist and Records Manager at the Archives and Records Management Service of the University of Lleida (Catalonia. Spain). Since 2004 she has been responsible for the implementation of the archives and records management system in the University. She has been a member of the Bureau of the Section on University and Research Institution Archives (ICA/SUV), since 2015.

Raventós, Aleman and Flores each presented their institutions and described their positions within the organisations.  They each presented dilemmas and tensions that feel very relevant and timely to them. Those questions included questions around what are best practices and how can we include those voices that aren’t present? What mechanism needs to be considered to allow access of multiple voices? 

Privacy and the role of laws in relation to archives

Particularly when discussing the public sector, academics and communities, what role does privacy play in archives and what is the role of laws that are geared towards protecting people, how should archives consider this dimension? And particularly the role of digital technology and how data is managed and what could Archivists learn from library studies in terms of technology and interoperability? Might their digital frameworks help archivists answer some of these open questions regarding technology and privacy when considering and developing ethical archives? 

In summary, what emerged from the day was very similar to the English LabDay where privacy, resources, technology and the importance of networks in developing more ethical archives. 

Feedback on the Spanish LabDay

What did you enjoy about LabDay?
●      The very fact of the conversation with colleagues from other spheres and dimensions. Among others, the dialogue with Pepita and Rosa's moderation
●      Listen to different experiences and especially that it has been in Spanish
What three to five keywords could summarize your LabDay experience and the work presented?
●      knowledge, experience, innovations
●      Commitment - Sharing - Community - Learning
What was your main 'takeaway' from LabDay?
●      The contribution of the exchange of ideas
●      Knowing colleagues and, in general, people who work in and for archives enriches our work, contributes new ideas and imagines new things for our information units.
Has the LabDay changed your thinking about how we can contribute to or critically address "archives and ethics" online? If so, how?
●      It has not changed my basic ideas on the subject
●      Of course, there were several things and practices that the colleagues commented on and that I have incorporated for discussion with my colleagues in the office, one of them was obtaining files external to the U (personal, from other institutions) and how we should think about where they would be better those files, where they could be available to those who require them despite our "good intention2" of having them at the University.
If there was a follow-up event, expanding on the themes of the session, what would you like it to focus on?
●      Presentation of specific cases where ethics is at stake
●      Definitely in knowing more experiences, not necessarily big projects but initiatives like the ones I saw on your website with the Roma community.

Feedback English LabDay

Feedback was collected from participants for the English LabDay.

What did you enjoy about the LabDay?

●      So many people from around the world attended!
●      The presentation of the Indian colleagues
●      A new experience of meeting and sharing with colleagues from far and wide in the digital space.
●      The diversity of the group/experiences
What three to five keywords might sum up your experience of the LabDay and the work presented?
●      Illuminating, fascinating, confirming, hopeful, inspired
●      Memory, Ethics, Communities, Mediator
●      Meeting -- Sharing -- Learning --
●      enlightening, interesting, solidarity, more questions
What was your main ‘takeaway’ from the LabDay?
●      That people in archives everywhere all struggle with issues around research ethics
●      Ethics in archives is a hot topic and it's very important in present time
●      To keep up the conversation about our different experiences as professionals in the various global regions.
●      To realise that there is a strong movement toward a new ethical archival practice
Has the LabDay changed your thinking about how we can contribute to or critically approach online ‘archives and ethics’? If so, in what way(s)?
●      Yes! I got some great insight and I feel like I am on the right track with my professional development training and bringing these larger questions and concerns around research ethics to my colleagues
●      Yes, specially the importance of taking in account the stakeholders of the archives, namely, the communities
●      It is important to realise that ethics is a noble concept, however a concept that does not necessarily work out the same way for everybody in their settings, exposures and understanding.
●      It confirmed the need to change
If there were to be a follow up event, extending the themes of the session, what would you like that to focus on?
●      More on research ethics.
●      Ethics in access and retrieval, in particular, colonial photographs
●      Changing the archival experience for communities and society in at times unconventional ways and examples of that.
●      Even more case studies, concrete actions to be taken. Thanks a lot.


Dissemination was important to the project and the work was circulated via several networks.  The team prepared the poster below which contained the English and Spanish details. This was intentional as we wanted to ensure that the entire archival community receiving the invite to save the date was aware that English and Spanish sessions were being organised. Indeed, English is a dominant language, and we ensured we chose an hour that was convenient to many, but we also purposely created all materials in both languages. The Save the Date invites were circulated online, to the JISC-Mail list[1], hosted on the ICA-SUV website and also distributed widely on social media. 

[1] JISC-Mail list:  Email discussion lists for the UK Education and Research communities 

PADLETS - English and Spanish Padlets

For each LabDay a Padlet was created that encouraged and allowed participants to contribute to the conversation and to offer thoughts on the following questions:
1)     What is an ethical archive? What does it look like in practice?
2)     When you think of Archives Ethics and communities- what comes to mind?
3)     When you think of Archives,  Ethics and Civil Society- what comes to mind?
4)     When you think of Archives and Ethics in practice- what comes to mind?
5)     What would a radical next step look like for archives?
Two Padlets were created, one in English and one in Spanish and are freely available online: English Padlet[1] and Spanish Padlet.[2] Below are the replies for each question.  We circulated the Padlet links ahead of time and encouraged individuals to use the Padlet during the second LabDay. Participants were also invited post-LabDay to contribute and continue the conversation. 

[1] English Padlet:
[2] Spanish Padlet:

Final thoughts

In summary, it emerged that there is significant interest in this area and a desire for conceptual and thematic discussion, as well as action. The data and feedback reveal there is a lot to learn from each other and that listening to international and intercultural case studies and first-hand experiences of archivists are essential to transformation. Advancing ethics and archives depends on operating from a place of respect, within inclusive conversations, where such spaces provide archivists with different lived experiences the opportunity to explore and offer provocations on ethics and archives.