Unpacking Policy Requirement 3 – Agencies must create complete and reliable records

Here at QSA we chat a lot about the notion of creation in records management. Is the act of creating something still relevant in a digital-by-default environment? Is everything created automatically by virtue of how we work these days? Not quite. We still have to consciously create records of what we do before we can even start thinking about how they’re managed. Some creation happens automatically but a lot doesn’t. Here’s an example of when it doesn’t.

Our office is open-plan. We have no walls or dividers and a lot of our desks face inwards. It’s great because it encourages us to collaborate on everything we do and have conversations about things we otherwise might not discuss. During the development of the Records Governance Policy we had countless discussions on different aspects of the policy – from terminology, to structure, to intent, to audience. Lots of these chats yielded policy decisions that had a significant impact on the way the policy looks today. These are the things that need to be deliberately created. Why? They pinpoint crucial decision points in the history of the policy that otherwise wouldn’t exist (except in the heads of those who were part of the discussion).

Think about how much you do every day that has a big impact on a deliverable, a decision or a project that exists in your head, or in a third-party app or on a hasty note made on your tablet. When we say deliberately created we mean putting it into a format where it can be saved and kept – it could be an email, an update on a SharePoint page or a more traditional file note. Whatever works for you – just as long as it’s created in the first place!

We also need to make sure that records that are created (automatically and deliberately) are complete and reliable. Is complete and reliable the ‘new’ full and accurate? Sort of. We think complete and reliable is stronger, we think it’s easier to define and we think it’s harder to argue with. Complete means everything. It tells the entire story, it contains all the details, context, descriptions and relationships that make up the complete history. A couple of realities of complete records – they are likely to be held across multiple business systems and applications, and their degree of ‘completeness’ is likely to change over time (what’s considered complete now might look different in five years).

When we talk about reliable records – we’re considering all the aspects necessary for you to be able to rely on something. Ultimately, you need to be able to prove that records are authentic and unaltered, accurate, dependable, traceable and able to be used (and re-used). This sounds like a lot to manage when we’re considering the spread of business systems, applications and dedicated recordkeeping systems that records live in but there are some specific things you can do to make this easier:

  1. Identify all the records your agency should be creating, through legislative mapping and internal and external environmental scanning. If your agency has existing information asset registers (or similar) in place, these will be a great starting point.
  2. Documenting everything you find in the above activity in a register or a format that lets you update and adapt content regularly. Again, information asset registers are a great starting point as they’ll prompt you to identify and document certain context, detail and other important metadata that ensures completeness and reliability.
  3. Develop processes (ideally, authoritative ones) that govern how these records must be created. By how, we mean the physical process for creation, when they will be created, who will create them and where they will be created and kept.

There’s a couple of other things we’d like you to start thinking about, however we do acknowledge these activities might not happen straight away:

  1. Look for opportunities to automate record creation using existing business systems and applications in new ways. Think about introducing workflows or even re-engineering your existing processes to better fit your system or application.
  2. Consider how records are managed (if, at all) when a business system or application is decommissioned or migrated. Ideally, records managers will be involved at various stages during the life of a business system or application and will have the opportunity to build specific recordkeeping requirements into these activities.

How do you manage record creation in your agency? Have you automated any record creation using existing business system or application functionality? Leave us a comment below.

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Featured image: Library, Buranda State School, c 1950, Digital Image ID 1578

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