Under the State Records Act 1998 (NSW), ‘each public office must make and keep full and accurate records of the activities of the office’.
All business units, teams and staff have a role to play in ensuring that sufficient records of your Public office’s activities are created and captured into its official business systems.
Records are often created automatically as part of business process, such as transactions in systems (e.g. HR and financial systems), the development of agreements and contracts and other documents, and the sending and receiving of emails and messages.
Yet, sometimes it is not clear for common activities such as meetings or telephone conversations whether a record needs to be created.
Ultimately the need to create records depends on the type of business activity and the requirements for evidence of that business.
When to create records
Records should be made whenever there is a business need, legal requirement or expectation (internal and external) for evidence and information.
How records are created
Records can be created through:
- Routine business activities where documentation is a by-product of undertaking the business activity
- Use of business systems or electronic forms as part of a transaction or business process
- A conscious decision to document an action, event, outcome or decision (for example taking minutes of a meeting.)
Records can be created in various formats such as email, letters, documents, spreadsheets, technical drawings, text messages, social media, photographs and audio / visual recordings.
What to document
To be full, accurate and reliable, records need to document:
- What? - what happened? what was decided or recommended? what advice or instruction was communicated ?
- Where? - location
- When? - date, time
- Why? - a decision was made
- Who? - who participated in the meeting, discussion or telephone conversation and their position/role
Ideally records will be created using sustainable file formats which can be maintained over the foreseeable future.
The following table highlights some common business activities and considerations for the creation of records.
|Activity||Description||Records to create|
|Briefing papers / notes||Briefing papers/notes are written papers that quickly and effectively inform a decision-maker about an issue. These are typically written for senior executives or for the Minister.||
includes attachments or supporting documentation.
Email is commonly used to document a wide range of activities:
Email messages sent and received in the course of official business are State records. This includes messages relating to any aspect of official (government) business coming from private email accounts.
When creating or replying to emails:
For more information check our managing email guidance
Meetings - Formal
Meetings of committees, boards, working groups etc.
Includes conference calls / video conferencing.
Formal meetings of committees, boards and working groups are often governed by standard procedures and rules. It is important that such procedures and rules identify records that must be created and kept of the business conducted at the meeting as well as outlining responsibilities for creating records of the meeting.
Delegate someone to take minutes documenting:
Circulate and confirm the accuracy of the minutes of the meeting.
NOTE: Records of meetings with lobbyists are to created and managed in accordance with M2019-02 NSW Lobbyists Code of Conduct.
|Meetings - Informal||
Meetings of ad hoc groups and meetings with clients.
These may be face to face or conference calls, skype calls, video conferencing, or chats through collaboration platforms.
Create a file note or send an email (i.e. “as discussed…”) documenting:
|Face to face conversations||
Business can sometimes be conducted in informal, conversational situations, such as over the counter or a catch-up over coffee.
It may involve clients, vendors and external stakeholders or occur between internal staff.
If these situations result in commitments to undertake a particular activities, or advice has been given, the decisions made or information provided should be documented.
Create a file note or send an email (i.e. “as discussed…”) summarising the decisions or recommendations made. Document:
The need to create records of telephone conversations will ultimately depend on the nature of the business being conducted.
If business conducted via the telephone is likely to impact business (it may be open to dispute), then the information exchanged in the telephone conversation needs to be documented, for example when:
Create file notes (or use purpose built systems) or send an email (i.e. “as discussed…”) summarising the decisions or recommendations made. Document:
In some Public office’s exchanges undertaken by telephone may be so contentious or significant that conversations are taped. In these situations it may not be necessary for staff to create records of their telephone conversations.
|Photographs, video and audio recordings||Photographs, video and audio recordings are often taken as evidence of events or activities, although they are records in themselves they should be supported by contextual information.||
And where applicable / feasible:
Capture is the process of registering a record within an organisational recordkeeping system, business system or other official records repository. Capturing a record places it in context by linking it to the relevant business activity.
To serve as reliable evidence over time, business records should be captured into an official recordkeeping repository, so that records can be:
- accessible to all who require them, subject to any restrictions that may apply
- controlled and managed in accordance with policy and procedures
- secured against tampering, unauthorised access or unlawful deletion, and
- disposed of promptly in accordance with legal authority.
In some cases capture may occur concurrently with creation, for example within a business system or through use of an electronic form. However, in other situations capture might not occur automatically and may rely on staff to actively save records into the correct systems.
What records should be captured?
Records created or received should be captured when they:
- Approve or authorise actions
- Constitute formal communications between staff e.g. memos relating to official business
- Communicate a policy change or development
- Relate to significant projects or activities being carried out
- Contain advice or provide guidance
- Constitute formal communications between staff and individuals outside the organisation, including invoices, or
- Have value in support of a project or activity being carried out by you or your section e.g. research or significant drafts.
It is particularly important to ensure records relating to legal requirements are captured for example, licenses, permits, contracts, risk assessments and legal advice.
Records do not need to be captured when they:
- Are facilitative or ephemeral (e.g. duplicate records, advertising material, records used for data input), or
- Are of personal nature and do not relate to work matters
Most facilitative and ephemeral records have no continuing value to the organisation, and, generally are only needed for a few hours or a few days.
More information on determining which records can be disposed of without capture into a recordkeeping system is contained in NSW State Archives and Records’ guidance on Normal Administrative Practice.
Common capture considerations
The following table highlights some common considerations for the capture of records into official recordkeeping systems / repositories. These considerations compliment the considerations above.
Your organisation’s business rules / procedures should outline:
Generally, emails should be captured into recordkeeping systems unless they are facilitative or ephemeral, or of a personal nature.
See our managing email guidance for checklist on whether the email must be captured.
Text, multimedia & instant messages
Capture messages that relate to:
Most devices/platforms will now allow for messages to be exported, however, screenshots provide an alternative method of extraction.
To assess whether you need to extract and save social media records into recordkeeping systems, consider:
Most platforms will now allow for records to be exported, however, screenshots provide an alternative method of extraction.
Drafts of records such as correspondences, briefing papers, reports, minutes or file notes
Capture drafts, if they:
Capture working papers that document:
Records in collaborative platforms
Many Public offices use collaborative or cloud platforms to communicate, develop joint policies and guidance, and for a range of other processes.
Make sure that the recordkeeping responsibilities of these activities are identified and adhered to. Capture:
How to capture records?
Records should be captured at the time of creation or receipt, or as close to as possible, to reduce the risk of them being missed or lost.
Creation and capture usually occurs concurrently within automated business processes or workflows and in business systems, as it is embedded in the system’s design. Electronic forms are often also designed to ensure capture is concurrent with creation.
Other records may need to be manually captured into recordkeeping systems. When capturing records, controls should be applied to ensure records are discoverable in the future.
Follow business rules to determine and apply:
- titling /naming conventions
- folder/file structure
Systems will usually be configured to prompt a user entry, or in some cases apply these controls automatically.
Often recordkeeping systems also allow for working documents, such as text files, or spreadsheets to be managed in official systems from their conception. This approach reduces risk of lost and enables a more collaborative working environment.
What about physical records?
Business rules should govern the capture of physical records.
Where practical paper documents can be scanned and saved into electronic recordkeeping systems through a digitisation process.
In some cases there may be a requirement to keep the physical record and attach it to a physical file.
Physical and digitised records should also follow titling/naming conventions, structure and classification rules.
Important Note: Source records cannot be legally destroyed after digitisation unless they meet conditions under General retention and disposal authority: Original or source records that have been copied (GA45). Consult with your records management team.
Resources for staff
NSW State Archives and Records produce leaflets which highlight staff recordkeeping responsibilities.
- The Recordkeeping Reminders leaflet outlines some common situations in which public servants should make and save records into recordkeeping systems.
- The Recordkeeping Fundamentals leaflet covers why records are important, common types of records, and responsibilities for Public office’s and employees.
Published August 2019