What do you mean I have to clean out the shed?

Records igloo Hamilton

Records storage igloo – Hamilton, July 1965

Digital Image ID 21924

Do you have a paper mountain that you are constantly scaling and need to reduce? Did you open the door to a room like in the photo above and just shut the door again? Maybe you have to move out of your current accommodation and you haven’t destroyed any records for a while? Or you’re constantly asked for information that you know is somewhere but you can’t quite put your finger on?

We’ve been hearing lots of stories lately about agencies clearing out basements to get ready to move or where an analysis of offsite storage costs has shown that savings could be made if only that paper mountain could be scaled. This is the first in a series of blogs to help you make a start on climbing and conquering that paper mountain.

To scale this mountain it is going to take resources but the benefits include having reduced storage costs and better knowledge and management of your information assets.

To help you reduce your mountain, you’ll need to:

  • build a business case and work out what you have
  • plan out your methodology/approach for reducing the paper mountain
  • destroy, transfer and/or continue to manage & store your records if you need to.

And don’t forget to also celebrate the successes and future proof your processes to prevent creating more paper mountains in the future. There’s not much point conquering Everest if you need a new expedition in a few years’ time.

See our infosheet Reducing paper mountains-where to start on how you can put these tips into practice.

If your agency has a good recordkeeping system in place and you know exactly what you have, for example, you have 50 boxes of accounts payable for 2000-2005, easy, these can be sentenced under the GRDS Financial Management and it’s time for them to go.  However, sometimes these good practices may not always have been in place or followed as closely as they could have been.

You may have records that have been sitting in storage for years or you may have received boxes as part of a machinery-of-government (MOG) change that you have limited information about. You will need to figure out the best way to check the information you have and build on it. One way to sentence these boxes is to start with some sampling to confirm the information you have is correct.

There is no set way to sample, however you will need to determine how many of the boxes you will sample. Sampling is influenced by the quality of current listings and your agency’s appetite for risk. You might find that you need to have higher levels of sampling where the quality of your available information is poor.

See our infosheet Sampling to reduce paper mountains to help you with what you need to consider.

Following the methodology in the Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS ISO 31000:2009, Risk management-principles and guidelines will help determine your risks.

Using a risk matrix, such as this one, may help.

Risk matrix

Consequences of your identified risks may include:

  • non-compliance with regulatory, legislative or business requirements
  • actions or decisions can’t be explained to the satisfaction of courts or commissions of inquiry
  • inefficiency & financial loss due to duplication of work already done.
  • negative reputational impacts.

For example, you’ve identified a risk that significant records may be inappropriately disposed of, and because you know the records contain personal information, are commercial-in-confidence or contain sensitive information you’ve determined there are major consequences. This may mean a higher level of sampling is warranted.

It might even be that you determine you need to check every box, as a result of your risk assessment. Doing no checking against boxes may put your agency at risk of unlawful disposal and loss of important records.

Holding onto records until the checking exercise is completely done, just in case something nasty pops up in the process, is generally best.

When you are checking these records, you are double-checking the accuracy of the information you already have, especially the correct retention period and building up your listing. You’ll need to check if the records are covered by a current retention and disposal schedule (RDS) either the General Retention and Disposal Schedule for Administrative Records (GRDS), GRDS Lite, Transitory records and short term value schedule or your agency’s core or sector RDS. If you find the records are not covered by any of these schedules, please contact Agency Services.

In the future we will be bringing you some case studies about agencies that have already scaled a paper mountain. Do you have a case study that you want to share on how you have reduced your paper mountains? Do you have any other helpful tips that could help other agencies? Share your stories here.

Remember, you can contact us at any time via email, telephone, blog, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Instagram.

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