Finalising the discussion on drafts

What do you really need to do with drafts? Are drafts records? How long do you need to keep them for?

This continues to be a hot topic for us. By the nature of our work in government, we generate a LOT of drafts. Emails, policies, briefs, plans, media releases… So what do you really need to know?

Virtually everything is a record (including drafts) but some records hold more business value than others, which is why we don’t need to keep all records forever, for a long time or sometimes even more than a few minutes.

You might have seen our recently released Transitory Records and Short Term Retention and Disposal Schedule*. This schedule is a disposal authority for really short term records, like some drafts, that can be deleted without even having to be formally captured as a record. It tells you that if a draft record satisfies a certain criteria (for example, if it doesn’t contain any significant changes to the final version) then you can delete it once business use ceases. What do we mean when we say ‘when business use ceases’? This is up to your agency. It could be immediately, it could be the next day, it could be a blanket 6 months on certain types of draft documents, or you may choose to keep it with the final version of that record for as long as that needs to be kept for.

Really, it all comes down to content over format. The fact that a record is a draft is not enough to tell you whether you need to keep it – it’s about what the draft relates to and if it provides valuable context to the ‘story’ of what that draft becomes (i.e. the final version). Some drafts may be crucial in providing context to how a decision was made or how something important was developed or approved.

An example of this? A draft email to a customer that you run by your manager before you send it probably won’t need to be kept but a draft project document where you have a scope change probably will need to be kept. The draft email and response from your manager saying “looks good to me” probably doesn’t contribute much value to the ‘story’ of the email that you end up sending to a customer. However a scope change to a project can be major and it provides context to the history of a project which could impact on budget, resourcing or outcomes.

Like most things recordkeeping, knowing what to do with your drafts definitely falls into the grey area but it’s not rocket science, we promise.

Here are our golden rules for dealing with drafts

  1. Keep a draft if it contains decisions, comments, feedback, annotations, requests, actions or any other kind of significant information that is NOT captured elsewhere and DOES contribute to the ‘story’ of the final version.
  2. Keep a draft if it’s going to help you with internal processes. Some drafts need to be put into an application so that a workflow approval can be initiated, or some drafts might need to be kept to show that a certain step in a process has been completed.
  3. Take a risk-based approach – do you have drafts of high-risk, high-value records? Think about how you’re going to deal with these and what kind of business rules you might put in place to make sure this valuable context isn’t lost.

Remember that some drafts need to be kept for a specified period of time (like some draft submissions and legislation). Check the retention and disposal schedules relevant to your agency to find out how long you need to be keeping drafts.

If you have any great strategies, procedures or business rules for managing drafts in your own agency, we’d love to hear about it. You can contact us at any time via email, Twitter or Facebook.

*Note: The Transitory Records and Short Term Retention and Disposal Schedule QDAN 720v2 has been superseded. Record classes in this schedule were incorporated into the current version of the GRDS.

2 thoughts on “Finalising the discussion on drafts

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  1. Thank you so much for a concise, articulate article. It expresses the advice I’ve been giving my staff for ages now. So very good to have this confirmation of the work that I do in influencing my staff towards industry best practice.

    1. Thanks Lyndall very much for your feedback! We are really pleased to hear that this article reaffirms your industry best practice advice!

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