David Leitch, Secretary General of ICA 2008 to 2018

Margaret Crockett | 5 February 2019

Introduction

 

David Leitch served as ICA’s Secretary General from the Kuala Lumpur Congress in July 2008 until early March 2018. He managed the ICA Secretariat and supported the Executive Board as well as several manifestations of its management committees through a period of great change both within ICA and throughout the international archives and records management field. He would be the first to acknowledge that the job was not an easy one. There was the perennial challenge of balancing the expectations of individual personalities and egos, the huge variance in ICA members’ resources, recordkeeping cultures and geographic contexts, as well as the remit of finding common ground and goals. Creating a space in which everyone has a voice and where everyone listens whilst allowing the organisation to succeed is supremely ambitious. To reflect on the changes and accomplishments of ICA during the decade or so that Leitch was running the organisation is to realise his remarkable achievements. He kept everything running whilst effecting growth and change.

The skills required of Leitch as ICA Secretary General were many and varied. Among the most critical during his term were advising the Executive Board and members with confidence, working with volunteers who cannot always prioritise ICA work, being subject to the opinions and needs of a world-wide constituency and the changing position of the field in each country.

A word of warning, however, if you are tempted to google David Leitch. You will discover that the most obvious candidate is an American film director and stuntman who made his directorial debut in the 2014 action film “John Wick” with Keanu Reeves in the lead role and most recently directed Deadpool 2. It is easy to see how this might lead to some confusion.

 

Context

 

Following two distinguished predecessors, Leitch was the third person to be full-time Secretary General of ICA although volunteers Peter Walne and Michael Roper had previously taken a role with that title. Charles Kecskemeti was the first head of the ICA Secretariat and during his time ICA was very much concerned with and influenced by the needs of the national archives. Its agenda was coloured by Cold War issues. Joan Van Albada, Leitch’s immediate predecessor, had played a strong role in ICA for fifteen years before he became Secretary General. He made a great effort to democratise ICA, pushing for all categories of members of ICA to become more active and have a greater voice in decision-making. In Leitch’s time the concept of a properly elected presidency, alongside other key elected central offices, has been realised, with 2010 seeing the first contested election for President.

Elected officers may come and go, often with different and sometimes contradictory perspectives and agendas from one another. Leitch ensured that ICA ran smoothly all year round whilst delivering the goals of those elected officers, the Executive Board, the Programme Commission and the membership – not to mention the branches, sections and expert or working groups. As Secretary General he also ensured that everyone had the opportunity to discuss professional matters and local and regional issues in smaller groups. Joan Van Albada has said “the Secretary General is the conductor who has to get everyone to play the tune together” but behind the realisation of that simple goal is the leader’s hard work of putting everyone at ease, allowing them all to learn their part and play together in smaller groups in time for opening night. Regardless of whether the performance was the first ever Annual Conference, an Executive Board meeting, a new expert group or a virtual exhibition, Leitch facilitated smooth delivery and audience satisfaction.

 

Career in ICA

 

Leitch, a Scot by birth, was keenly interested in the international scene from early on in his archives career. A love of overseas travel was fostered by childhood holidays in France and Germany and he was that rare kind of Brit who learned French and German throughout formal education although he specialised in history not languages. Conversations with Leitch when he was a newly qualified archivist in the mid-1980s quickly revealed his hopes for a more international career than that of most British professionals.

It was not until 1993, when he worked for the UK Historical Manuscripts Commission, that Leitch got his first taste of working as a volunteer for ICA. He took over from Chris Kitching as Deputy Editor of Archivum. In 1994 he started working for the British Public Record Office but continued in his ICA role. When Archivum and Janus merged in 2000, he continued his editorial work, serving on the Comma Editorial Board. In 2003 he became ICA’s representative on the UK Blue Shield Committee.

His secondment to the ICA post of Senior Programme Manager in 2006 marked Leitch’s transition from volunteer to professional international archives work. Katie Woolf, in the TNA’s announcement to the UK archives and records management community, stated: “As Senior Programme Manager, he will play a significant role in co-ordinating the many projects in ICA’s programme in the run-up to the Kuala Lumpur Congress in July 2008 and in ensuring that the Congress programme fully reflects the vitality of the archive profession in the early 21st century.” At that time he had twenty years’ experience in the archives field, mainly at the UK National Archives as Head of Archive Inspection, Corporate Planner, Head of Performance and Communications and International Co-ordinator. The TNA Chief Executive stated: ”With the globalisation of information and the impact of new technologies … it is even more essential that the professional archival community should work together at the international level. I am confident that, strengthened by Leitch’s presence in the secretariat, ICA will continue to function effectively for the benefit of us all.” Leitch himself said: “I am delighted to be joining ICA at a crucial time in its history, and hope that my contribution will really make a difference.” On leaving the professional programme support role he said: “I did a wide range of things, but tried to stimulate professional programme activity and publish more information about it.” His support of successive Programme Commission Secretaries and, more recently, Programme Officers, has certainly allowed ICA’s Professional Programme to flourish.

By the following year Leitch had become Deputy Secretary General and later on during 2007, following a rigorous recruitment process, he was declared Secretary General Designate. As DSG he drafted the ‘Strategic Directions 2000-2018’ which were adopted at the 2008 Congress. Now, in 2018, we are still familiar with this statement of ICA’s goals, strategy and ambitions during a decade of constant change on the international scene both within our own field and beyond.  However, for the record, it is important to state them as they are crucial to understanding Leitch’s work and achievements for ICA. Simply put they are:

  • Raising awareness
  • Influencing development and use of new technologies
  • Building capacity
  • Strengthening the network
  • Improving accountability
  • Building relationships

As Strategic Advisor to the Elected Officers from March 2018, Leitch’s final act as an ICA employee is to carry out a fundamental review of ICA’s strategy, statutes and structures, and to develop clear recommendations for change where appropriate. It will include a consideration of the changing environment in which ICA operates and comparisons with similar organizations in closely related fields. Thus Leitch’s achievements as SG are neatly bookended by his solid contribution to ICA’s strategic planning over two decades.

As we know, Leitch became Secretary General in 2008 and immediately made his mark by re-establishing FIDA in 2009. The International Fund for Archival Development, ably chaired by Sarah Tyacke, Leitch’s former boss at TNA, held its first meeting and began supporting projects in 2010. Since then the modest but regular funding has enabled ICA to support over 100 archives development projects in low-resource environments.

In 2010 Leitch commissioned the 2011 report that recommended replacing the exclusive international round tables on archives (CITRA) with an annual conference which is open to all members. In time this also led to the creation of the Forum for National Archivists (FAN) as a body where national archivists could debate and find solutions to common challenges.

After a hesitant reception in Malta the previous year, the Universal Declaration on Archives was ratified by the Annual General Assembly in Oslo in 2010. Members should not underestimate the SG’s role in advising and supporting the UDA Working Party in successfully bringing this crucial article to sit beside the Constitution as an ICA foundation document. In 2011 the UDA was adopted by UNESCO. It now has the status of a UNESCO standard-setting instrument and carries great weight as an internationally recognised statement on the importance of archives and records and the urgent need to manage them effectively. 2011 also saw the modernisation of ICA publications, the recruitment of a part-time Publications Officer, Stephen O’Connor, and the beginning of a formal contract with the University of Liverpool for both Comma and Flash.

Constitutional reform ended the old Management Commission in 2012, switching to the more agile Elected Officers’ meetings for decision-making in between the twice-yearly Executive Boards. Another important milestone occurred in 2012 when Category C members were given voting rights and individual category D members were given deliberative rights at the General Assembly. ICA’s voting membership now included not just national archives and professional associations but also institutional members.

In 2013 Leitch supported the Programme Commission in establishing the current list of Expert Groups to better support ICA and its members in their professional practice. There is now a group of people with a range of expertise who can be called upon to offer opinions and take on work in line with ICA policy and strategy and in pursuit of the goals of the professional programme. Also in 2014 Leitch, whose interest in developing and improving ICA’s publications and communications form an abiding theme of his tenure, launched the e-newsletter. Possibly the most significant event in 2013 for both Leitch and ICA was the first Annual Conference open to all members. This took place in Brussels in November and members expressed their support and appreciation by not only proposing a myriad of presentations for the programme but by attending in their hundreds.

The city of Girona helped mark another milestone for ICA in 2014 when it hosted the ICA Annual Conference. Previously only National Archives had hosted CITRAs and Congresses. Joan Boadas i Raset, Municipal Archivist of Girona commented: “without David Leitch’s confidence in me, we would never have organized the conference in Girona.” 2014 was also the year that Flash became an e-publication following an EB decision on budgetary matters.

In 2015 Leitch was responsible for giving approval for Celine Fernandez to start leading ICA’s  serious presence on social media. From 2015 to March 2018 ICA Facebook friends grew from 2051 to 4534 (more than double) and Twitter followers increased by more than 47 times, growing from 125 to 5916 followers.

2016 was dominated by the project to renew the ICA website and Leitch oversaw the process which introduced the improved site. A new focus on International Archives Day allowed the Secretariat team to set in motion a strategy which would begin to regularly boost members’ efforts to advocate for archives and recordkeeping.

Leitch was always keen to consider ways of using technology to work more efficiently and encouraged the development of online digital systems for group working, decision-making and voting. In 2017 the Programme Commission started to use an on-line voting mechanism. 2017 also saw ICA’s first Annual Conference (or CITRA for that matter) in Latin America, when it was held in Mexico City. Leitch had long been an advocate for ICA’s Latin-American members, attending meetings there and taking counsel from Didier Grange, who holds the (volunteer) post of ICA Special Advisor. The Mexican Annual Conference was the culmination of many years work to bring share experiences and mutual support with archivists and records managers in that part of the world.

By early 2018 there were four times as many category D members of ICA as there had been when Leitch took over the helm. Membership in general had increased by 30%. Even without the solid body of achievements described above, this fact alone bears testimony to ICA’s success under Leitch during a time of world recession.

 

Leader of Men and Women

 

In 2008 the core team in the Secretariat consisted of two administrative staff and a Deputy Secretary General on loan from France. The Secretariat team headcount which Leitch inherited in 2008 was barely enough to carry out the “business as usual” workplan, let alone adequate to deliver the Strategic Directions adopted by the Executive Board and the Annual General Meeting.

Owing partly to the complexity of French employment law and the exigencies of ICA decision-making, it took a long while for Leitch to develop the team and transform the Secretariat into the multi-talented group of professionals that serve at the centre of ICA today. When he stepped down in 2018, the team consisted of Marianne Deraze, the Website and Electronic Communications Officer (who also offers first class technical support), Philippe Bruneau, the Finance and Administrative Officer, Christine Trembleau, the Marketing and Communications Officer and Jessica Squires, the Programme Officer. The author also works on a consultancy basis in the role of Training Officer and previously served for seven years as Deputy Secretary General. One of Leitch’s greatest achievements is his ability to attract and inspire loyalty in volunteers. This has resulted in a group of high calibre individuals who do vital work as part of the extended Secretariat. The work of the Community Manager, Celine Fernandez, and the Special Advisor, Didier Grange, has already been mentioned. The Translations and Publications Advisor, Margaret Turner has acted as minuting secretary for the Annual Meeting, the Programme Commission and the Executive Board throughout Leitch’s tenure. Cécile Fabris joined the team after the Girona conference and has been acting as New Professionals Coordinator. Without her leadership and management this important PCOM Programme would not have developed into such an impressive opportunity for both New Professionals in particular and the ICA in general. James Lowry was commissioned in 2015 by the then PCOM team to investigate and report on the needs of ICA’s African members. The report led inexorably to the Africa Strategy and Programme which Lowry leads in his role of Africa Programme Secretary.

Speaking about Leitch’s abilities in managing people, Sarah Tyacke said: “Colleagues would not have volunteered to do ICA work if they had not felt he was supportive – certainly not in my case.” This underlines the role of the Secretary General in encouraging individuals to hold office throughout the organs of ICA, including the steering committees of sections and branches, membership of FIDA and PCOM as well as the elected officers serving as President and Vice-Presidents. Over the past ten years many office holders, including several elected officers, have served and remain in office doing vital work to a high standard because of Leitch’s ability to find the right job for them and to support them in that role.

Leitch provided solid support for the professional programme, offering advice and historical context. Most notably in 2008 and 2012 he provided the Programme Commission with Deputy Secretary Generals to act as Secretary to the VP Programme. In 2015 he succeeded in setting up a secondment arrangement for Monique Nielsen to serve as Programme Officer before establishing it as a permanent post in the Secretariat at the end of 2016 when Jessica Squires was hired. In 2017 he supported Normand Charbonneau, VP Programme, to achieve his vision of establishing a formal training programme which was to include online and distance learning provision. Working in tandem with his successor Andrea Seles, Leitch’s transition of the author from DSG to Training Officer on a consultancy basis provided the necessary resource to create a significant member benefit and meet ICA’s capacity building goals.

 

What People say about David Leitch

 

In researching this article the author spoke to a number of individuals who have worked with Leitch over the course of his ICA career. They speak of Leitch’s sense of humour and independent spirit, his unselfishness, his amazing capacity to retain information and his willingness and ability to trust others with responsibility. They describe him as being disconcerting and unpredictable, with a great ability to surprise. They say he is rarely sombre even when he and colleagues are exhausted, he carries his power irreverently and can establish a cordial and friendly atmosphere. He likes nothing as much as a good metaphor, preferably sporting, usually football. Above all, it is clear that he leaves no one indifferent.

One colleague pointed out that if the working world can be divided between loyal colleagues and others who have mainly their self-interest at heart, it is a tribute to Leitch’s moral rectitude that he found it exceedingly hard to work with the second group. Making compromises to include all parties was not easy for him yet the orchestra that is ICA (to steal Van Albada’s metaphor) still performed well.

Leitch is very much admired and respected throughout the archival world. Many colleagues and national archivists knew they would find him an attentive listener and their faith in him can be measured by the impressive number of visitors he received in the Paris Secretariat. He was the face of ICA for a decade and he had a knowledge of the membership, from National Archivists to New Professional, which is humbling.

Archives and records management professionals have much to do to meet the challenges and requirements of the information age. Largely thanks to Leitch ICA has played a major role in identifying and finding ways to work together on strategies to keep up with technological evolution. The development of the organization over the past 10 years is mainly due to him and this should be recognized by the whole international archival community.

A rather surprising thing about Leitch is how uncomfortable he can be about the necessary formalities when travelling abroad for ICA. Yet Henri Zuber, VP Finance, formerly VP Programme, tells of the time at Abu Dhabi airport in September 2014 when “the rather desolate state” of his own passport led to him being questioned by the immigration authorities for quite a while. Leitch was a great support, waiting patiently for Zuber’s interrogation to end, even though it might have meant missing the flight home.

Sarah Tyacke paid tribute to David saying: “you need diplomacy, skills in negotiation and most of all stamina to do the travelling and attend all the meetings while keeping the show on the road in the Paris Office and across the world. Of course it’s great to visit places but you may only see the inside of the hotel or some bureaucratic office and be constantly on duty as SG in sorting out practicalities and negotiating with local colleagues who may not be entirely au fait with ICA requirements: [this is] all in day’s work for an SG.”

“During his tenure Leitch has helped ICA transition from a very conservative and un-transparent organization dominated by the large institutional members (first world country national archives) to one that is more democratic, open to individual members and financially more transparent.” Said Becky Haglund Tousey (Section for Professional Associations). “ICA meetings have changed from primarily governance-related to more programmatic and inclusive.”

 

In Conclusion

 

In Flash 35, Leitch wrote: “If, at the last General Assembly, not a single question was asked from the floor, it could be argued that this silence is a reflection of the fact that ICA is a relatively well run organization, and I draw some satisfaction from that.” More than that, Leitch has been responsible for policies and actions that have totally changed ICA and turned it into a modern, flexible organisation. In the same article he stated: “I am proud of what my colleagues in the Secretariat and I have achieved with the help of many members throughout the world.” He has been major factor in the changes for good that ICA has undergone since 2008. We are all looking forward to seeing what Leitch does next.

 

Margaret Crockett, November 2018

 

This piece has been written in consultation with various colleagues, ex-colleagues and volunteers. In particular I would like to thank and acknowledge Henri Zuber, Didier Grange, Sarah Tyacke, Joan Van Albada, Joan Boadas and Stephen O’Connor.