Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Rewriting retention

I'm currently trying to update records management policies and procedures at my organisation and I've come up against the issue that has driven me to distraction for years: how to present the retention schedule?

Retention is so important. It's at the heart of what we do in both records management - keeping things only as long as we need to - and information rights. Just check out the fifth principle of the Data Protection Act.

The recent debates about the police retention of DNA data or the recent US proposals to retain incoming traveller information are the high profile examples of why it matters. In a more modest way, it applies to your shared drive, your inbox and that old ring binder on your office shelf with '2001/2' written on it.

But the retention schedule - as a document - is notoriously one of the most difficult and alienating text for non-RM staff to deal with. Firstly, it's likely to be a long document, full of those multi-page table formats that word processing programmes never particularly handle well. Secondly, the language of many of the generic 'standard' retention schedules used as a basis for organisational policies rarely bear much relation to the terms used by staff in their day-to-day work.

The danger is that schedules are so inaccessible can slide into irrelevance without a lot of time spent from the local records manager. The RM needs to ensure that they are followed and worked into departmental IT systems as well as paper files.

Researching on google, I came upon a useful article by Susan Cisco entitled 'Big Buckets for Simplifying Records Retention Schedules', (Information Management Journal, Sep/Oct2008 'Hot Topic', pp. 3-6). This document discussed the strategy of reducing the number of record types in retention schedules down to a relatively - 50 to a 100 - small number of 'retention buckets'. When you consider that something like the Local Government Classification scheme had at least over 600 types you can see that it is a significant 'slimming down'. The 'buckets' act as broad categories of records, the advantage being that staff are much more likely to categorise when the options are simpler. The intended result is that more records are stored and less records are misfiled.

Does it simply come down to that recurring challenge for records managers of engaging with staff? I think retention schedules could benefit from more simplicity. Would it be easier for staff to manage records day-to-day if their retention schedule was simple enough to laminate as one page and stick on the wall? Or set as default folders on a shared drive?

A post on the Thinking Records blog covered the Department for Education’s SharePoint implementation using just 11 'buckets', to a mixed reception from some of the RMs present. I think it's a bold move and a decent attempt to drag the retention schedule into the heart of how our organisations work day-to-day.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

All about the records

This is the first post of a blog about records management and information rights. I suppose my interests would be summarised as follows:

1) Information rights = good! I'm very interested in the way that the 'case law' is developing through Decision Notices and tribunals.

2) In terms of records management I believe that the era of the big, accredited EDRMS is over and we need to look at other ways to manage our information and records.

3) I could have also called this blog 'All about the users' because I believe the most important and fun parts of my role as a records manager are as a trainer, working with people at their desks. Making the mechanics of records management easy and accessible for users is one of the biggest challenges and I'll be looking at this a lot in my blog.

All views are my own. Hope you find these posts useful.