Understanding functions: an organizational culture perspective

Fiorella Foscarini (Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada)

Records Management Journal

ISSN: 0956-5698

Publication date: 23 March 2012



This paper aims to discuss the disconnection between the recognized centrality of the functional approach to records management and archives and the actual understanding of functions that scholars, practitioners, and records creators seem to have. It suggests that records professionals should consider functions not in the abstract but in the specific socio‐cultural contexts in which they are enacted.


After analyzing the main theoretical and methodological issues concerning the concept of function and the application of the functional approach, the paper reports some findings of an empirical study of function‐based records classification systems conducted by the author in four different organizations in Europe and North America.


The multiple‐case study research confirmed that the meaning of both function and classification are subject to various interpretations, that a number of non‐functional factors are involved in the creation of function‐based tools, and that records professionals find available explanations of functional methods confusing. The findings also indicate that there is a relationship between organizational cultures and the ways in which business and records processes are perceived and translated into practice.

Research limitations/implications

This study provides a number of suggestions that may be used to improve the analysis of functions and business processes for any records management purposes. In particular, it discusses some of the non‐functional and cultural factors that influence the design and implementation of function‐based records classification systems. However, more empirical research is needed in order to broaden our understanding of functions in real‐world organizations.


Based on a broad selection of professional literature on the functional approach, this paper presents the original findings of an empirical study that uses qualitative methods to analyze and interpret the data collected. It is hoped that it will inspire more exploratory research of this kind in the records management area.



Foscarini, F. (2012), "Understanding functions: an organizational culture perspective", Records Management Journal, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 20-36. https://doi.org/10.1108/09565691211222072

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