Recordkeeping and Records Management

Definitions:

Record (s)

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1) Recorded data or information of any kind and in any form, created or received and accumulated by an organisation or person in the transaction of business or the conduct of affairs and subsequently kept as evidence of such activity through incorporation into the recordkeeping system of the organisation or person. Records are the information by-products of organisational and social activity.

2) A record is any recorded information produced or received in the initiation, conduct or completion of an institutional or individual activity and that comprises content, context and structure sufficient to provide evidence of the activity.

(Wallace, Grey-Smith, & Wylie, 2004)

Recordkeeping

Making and maintaining complete, accurate and reliable evidence of business transactions in the form of recorded information.

Recordkeeping includes the following:

a. the creation of records in the course of business activity and the means to ensure the creation of adequate records;
b. the design, establishment and operation of recordkeeping systems; and
c. the management of records used in business (traditionally regarded as the domain of records management) and as archives (traditionally regarded as the domain of archives administration).

(Wallace, Grey-Smith, & Wylie, 2004)

Archival electronic records

These are records that were originally created and subsequently maintained in a digital format. They differ from digitized records that are paper-based or analogue archival records that have been digitized through scanning or some other technique.

Archives of Ontario, 2009

Records Management

Records management is the discipline and organisational function of managing records to meet operational business needs, accountability requirements and community expectations. Records management plays many roles within an organisation and in the organisation’s relationship with the world. Thus, records management is concerned with the following:

a) Managing the records continuum, from the design of a recordkeeping system to the end of the records’ existence;

b) Providing a service to meet the needs, and the protection of interests, of the organisation and its clients;

c) Capturing complete, accurate, reliable and useable documentation of organisational activity to meet legal, evidentiary and accountability requirements;

d) Managing records as an asset and information resource, rather than as a liability;

e) Promoting efficiency and economy, both in the management of records and in organisational activity as while, through sound recordkeeping practices.

(Standards Australia AS 4390.01, 1996)

Records management has grown into a very disciplined process over the years, particularly within government agencies. This has involved the creation of files according to strict file titling schemes and has required the use of records management staff to manage the movement of these files around the organisation.

The primary purposes of this process being:

  • Keeping records of the work that has been done to assist with future work. This is particularly true where the information flows across an ownership boundary. For instance, a letter being sent outside of the organisation would cross a boundary and would need to be captured in some sort of filing system.
  • providing an audit trail of the decisions that have been made. This can be used to ensure accountability and that all the right processes and approvals have been obtained.
  • complying with statutory requirements.

The State Records Office of NSW explains very clearly why efficient Records Management is critical to any organisation.

Records as an information asset

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Records are a valuable corporate asset that, by their retention and re-use as evidence of decision-making and business activity, can improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of an organisation. There are costs in their management but good management reduces these costs. In addition, the organisation benefits from reduced risks from legal or regulatory challenges by finding and producing the relevant evidence contained in the records.

By making and managing records an organisation can ensure that it has available to decision-makers all the information they need to carry out their roles. This can improve:

  • the quality of decision-making
  • the quality of business activity
  • long term planning
  • quality reporting, and
  • fast and accurate customer service.

Records support accountability

Accountability means being able to provide an explanation or justification, and accept responsibility, for events or transactions and for one's own actions in relation to these events or transactions. Accountability is both internal and external to a public office including delegation of responsibility to staff and reporting to external watchdogs.

Records are evidence of what happened, why and by whom. They underpin accountability and provide an essential means to meet legal, financial and accountability requirements. A number of reports by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) have identified recordkeeping failures both as impeding investigations and contributing to failures within the subject organisations. Reports by the NSW Auditor-General regularly highlight failures in recordkeeping systems or practices.

Typical failures include:

  • not making records in the first place or making incomplete records
  • not capturing records into recordkeeping systems
  • not keeping records for the length of time they are needed
  • not assigning responsibility for recordkeeping so that it doesn't get done
  • not being able to find records at all, or in an efficient and timely manner.

All of these have an impact on the ability of an organisation to meet both its internal and external accountability requirements and business needs, such as meeting FOI and financial audit obligations. The suite of corporate governance standards issued by Standards Australia (AS 8000-4 series, 2003) all include references to recordkeeping and its relation to good corporate governance.

(State Records Office NSW, 2010)

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