Where do I start?
Records management policy statement
Records management should be covered by corporate policy. The records management policy statement gives direction to the records management program and assigns responsibility for managing records. It must be authorised at a senior level to have a mandate throughout the organisation. The policy statement may be incorporated into other executive policies. A records management policy is required under the Standard on managing a records management program.
An organisational policy document is a good place to identify corporate rules for managing your electronic records. Most organisations use email and all email messages are records. You may want to tell people in your policy that:
- email messages are records
- email messages documenting organisational business need to be captured as managed as records
- relevant email messages should be printed and filed or captured into records management software packages.
Procedures set out the processes that must be followed by staff creating and maintaining records used in your organisation. Recordkeeping procedures may be incorporated into normal business operating procedures or developed separately.
If you have existing procedure documentation, include references to records in these procedures. For example, some sample statements are:
- 'records should be made of all verbal business decisions made with growers', or
- 'all contracts should be signed by both parties and stored in the safe', or
- 'no records of marketing arrangements should be destroyed without the authorisation of the Chief Executive' etc.
You need to know what records exist in your organisation, where they are and what has happened to them. This information may be captured in a paper control system of file registers, index cards and file movement sheets or, more commonly, in a records management system based on software - maybe an Excel spreadsheet or Access database if you have a simple filing system, or a records management software product for larger scale and more complex systems. Records management software products are available on a NSW Government panel contract. These products are not necessarily the best solution for a very small office where a simple spreadsheet would suffice.
It is important to capture and keep certain information about the records to ensure that they are kept securely, they can be used over time and disposed of when they are no longer needed. This information, also known as metadata, can relate to the records' location, purpose, format or title. It is best kept in records control systems such as those described above.
For more information on controlling your records, see our guidelines How to take control of your records. These are particularly useful for small public offices and contain helpful tools.
Grouping records together based on the business to which they relate, e.g. into files, is important in successfully managing records over time. This is known as classification. Classification can help you to find records, identify when they can be disposed of, and identify records to which access needs to be restricted because they contain personal or confidential information. Classification can help in managing computer networks and titling directories as well as paper files.
State Records recommends classification according to business function and activity. As a starting point, we recommend that you develop a business classification scheme (BCS) that shows the business functions and activities of your public office.
See examples of business classification schemes on our Useful resources page.
From a BCS, you can develop a thesaurus to control the terms used to title files. This will help to identify related records and related files.
For simple filing systems, you may not need a thesaurus - a list of standard file titles that should be used may be sufficient. You will have to decide this based on an analysis of the way your organisation works and the needs of your users.
For more information see State Records' guidelines on Developing and implementing a keyword thesaurus.
It is illegal to destroy records of official business without the permission of State Records. For general administrative records like personnel and finance records, State Records gives this permission through general retention and disposal authorities (GDAs), available on our website. For records of your core business functions you need to develop a functional disposal authority. Once approved by State Records this is a legal instrument authorising minimum periods for which records must be kept and identifying records required to be transferred to the archives.
Note: Some sectors have GDAs that cover all their records, set out in the table below.
General retention and disposal authority: local government records (GA39)
GDA23: University records
GDA17: Public Health Services: Patient/Client Records
Records are a critical asset, and disaster planning in your public office should include provisions relating to their protection and management. The Standard on counter disaster strategies for records and recordkeeping systems requires that public offices:
- assess risks to records and recordkeeping systems
- identify vital records, and
- prepare a disaster plan for records.
You need to have access to records management skills. If these are not available within your public office, you may have to think about training and development for staff, or accessing skills outside the organisation.
- get advice from State Records staff about your records management requirements. Use our website, particularly the Government Recordkeeping Manual. Keep up to date with our email newsletter For the Record.
- make contact with colleagues in the local area with records management expertise and talk to them about any specific records management queries that come up
- attend training courses. State Records runs a number of courses about different records management issues. These are all outlined on our Training calendar.