Managing Records Retention and Disposal [June 09] by managing records retention and disposal and where

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    Managing Records Retention and Disposal


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    Chapter 1: Introduction

    Managing records retention and disposal – a definition Managing records retention and disposal refers to the development of a strategy based on a policy that contains lasting principles. The retention management strategy is a basis for action and is underpinned by up-to-date and organisation-specific legislative and regulatory rules and organisational practice. The purpose of the retention management strategy is to manage the final outcome of the information contained within the records that are created and received by an organisation.

    This chapter summarises what is meant by managing records retention and disposal and where it fits in an organisation, if at all. To set the scene for the rest of the report, however, opinions, a little history and certain facts relating to records retention are included at the beginning of this chapter. The chapter concludes with a statement on defining retention rules as a lead into Chapter 2 which addresses legal requirements and research.

    An opinion on records management and retention The phrase ‘records retention and disposal’ is unfamiliar to the majority of workers; the need for their organisation to develop a programme for retention and implement it successfully is a rarely-understood necessity. If you remember little else with regards to the opinion and guidance in this report, please remember these two opening statements and repeat quietly as you develop a business

    case, define a policy and integrate retention rules into your organisation’s daily life.

    If you are a records manager you will most likely challenge some or all of the above paragraph. You may remark that your colleagues do know what is meant by records retention and disposal and that they understand the need to abide by the retention rules showing when to dispose of the documents and files they create and receive. You may continue that it is a difficult and time-consuming programme to implement and keep accurate and up-to- date and that your colleagues rarely agree to disposal when they review the archive lists, citing work-related reasons for retaining those records that are due for disposal (according to the carefully researched and approved retention schedule). You may pause for breath and go on that you have little time or money to implement the retention programme, that it is seen as necessary to have a retention schedule but it is not supported well enough by the ‘hierarchy’. You may add that staff have no liking for additional administrative duties and will only deal with disposal as part of a black bag throw-away day (with a suitably amusing acronym) that you have introduced for purposes of archiving and to clear out random storage and dumping areas in your office. This programme is very successful – after all, you do offer bribes in the form of prizes for the most paper disposed of; the hierarchy does support it, although you are unsure why as it is a disruptive and noisy

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    Chapter 1

    Before we start: Glossary of terms There are a number of words in common use within the records management profession that may need explanation in terms of this report. There are also some definitions new to records management that are explained here.

    Documents, records and files For the purposes of this report I have chosen not to distinguish between these three different words, all of which hold information in or on them that in turn makes them part of the ‘information lifecycle’. ISO 15489-1:2001 Information and documentation – Records management does give a formal meaning to the word record: “information created, received and maintained as evidence and information by any organisation or person in pursuance of legal obligations or in the transaction of organisation”.1 Whilst in professional records management circles the differences between a record, a file and a document are recognised and understood, in the wider world people do not find it easy or necessary to differentiate between the three.

    Data The word data, however, is not usually confused with document, file or record and is more often used in connection with electronic information. The terms unstructured data and structured data serve to separate information randomly stored on the server or desktop (unstructured data) from information contained in databases or specific systems such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems (structured data). Metadata is also in popular use in the records management environment and refers to the properties of a record, such as the name of its creator or editor, the date on which it was created, the class to which it belongs, its subject matter and so on.

    Knowledge Simply put, knowledge is what we gather and store inside our heads as we experience life and interact with others. Our knowledge is something we impart to others. Knowledge leads us to opinions. There is a lot of opinion in this report. Some of it is based on knowledge and information being blended to formulate ideas; some is based on my experiences over the past 30 plus years in information management. You may not agree with my opinions and I am pleased about that as debate brings forth different solutions. Other than in this chapter I shall not be using the word knowledge in this report but explain it here to put it into context and to show that it is part of the family of words used by information professionals.

    Information Information is the result of our knowledge colliding with another’s knowledge whilst communicating. Information enriches our own knowledge and is often laid down in print or shared through the spoken word. Information is contained within the records that we are trying to manage within our organisation.

  • Managing Records Retention and Disposal


    day; and, of course, it is an opportunity for you to explain records management to your colleagues and expound on why it is so necessary to the organisation that employs all of you.

    If you are not a records manager then please bear with me. There is a purpose to this rant at the beginning of this serious report on managing records retention and disposal, and that is the removal of all the trivia that seems to accompany records management, in order to implement a set of really very simple controls to manage records and introduce retention and disposal from day one.

    The information lifecycle and records management Records management (RM) puts into place controls to manage the ‘information lifecycle’ (see below for an explanation). It is firmly believed by the RM fraternity that

    these controls should be part of each and every process in the organisation, that they should assist staff to maintain accurately, use effectively, share appropriately and then retain or dispose of records for which they are responsible. Not all staff, however, have a responsibility for the final outcome of every record they use so the records management controls should show where various responsibilities lie. Records management should provide guidance on techniques for filing, searching, retrieving and storing. The records management controls must also provide detailed and accurate information on records retention in terms of both organisation requirements and legal requirements.

    Please note that nowhere in this report does it state that records management is the sole responsibility of an individual, a separate department, or a person called a ‘records manager’. True, somebody may have to be accountable for the development

    Organisation I shall use this word to signify every type of business, company, society, charity, institution, family unit.

    Process Process is a “sequence of interdependent and linked procedures [I personally prefer tasks] which, at every stage, consume one or more resources (employee time, energy, machines, money) to convert inputs (data, material, parts, etc.) into outputs [information contained in records]. These outputs then serve as inputs for the next stage until a known goal or end result is reached”.2 The outputs referred to include information contained in records. To paraphrase Robert Redford’s 1992 film, information is the river running through the process.

    Breakable/unbreakable sets of documents Breakable sets of documents may have items purged from within them. All documents in an unbreakable set will be retained and destroyed together.

    A breakable collection has no document type and merely acts as a cross-reference to link different documents or sub-collections. An unbreakable collection has a document type property of its own which will dictate the retention period. Essentially this collection acts as a single document.

  • Chapter 1


    of the records management controls and the records retention information but that person should not be charged with the responsibility of filing and archiving for the organisation. The records management policy, the controls and the auditing to ensure that the controls are working and being used should be developed in line with other information- related policies such as information security, data protection and continuity. This should be part of an overall organisational strategy – not, as in many cases, a separate process born out of archive storage requi