I recall when I first started working as an Information Management Consultant at The National Archives back in 2005 I was learning about how to appraise records for historical value and our resident appraisal expert at the time used the phrase ‘A punishment to fit the crime’ to demonstrate to us that not all records should be appraised in the same way. I have never forgotten this and it occurred to me recently that this concept also applies to work that I have been doing around understanding the value of information and managing it accordingly.
There has been much talk across government and the Knowledge and Information Management profession in the past few years about what actually constitutes a ‘record’ in our complex digital world. Lots of definitions exist but in fact when giving advice to government departments we say that all information you create is a record regardless of format or location. The legislation that we work to in government, The Public Records Act, backs this up:
“records” includes not only written records but records conveying information by any other means whatsoever. s10(1)
In addition all information created by bodies that fall under the Public Records Act are ‘public records.’
However, the way in which you manage this information will vary depending upon its value to the organisation and this is where the ‘punishment to fit the crime’ comes in. This could be the value of the information for carrying out business functions, as evidence of a business activity, in complying with legislative rules and regulations and historical value. The value of information should be an essential consideration in deciding on the policies, processes and systems that are required to manage that information. For example:
- If you have information that is of short term value you don’t want to be incurring the costs of keeping it beyond its useful life. Storage may be cheap (and that is debatable) but it is costly to maintain, preserve and provide access to that information over time
- All information in the UK public sector is subject to legislative record keeping requirements and you need to make sure that you are managing your information in order to comply with them. For example, personal data will need to disposed of in line with the requirements of the Data Protection Act
- For information of medium/long term value that is required to carry out or provide evidence of a business function, you need to have the right policies, processes and systems in place to ensure that you can find, open, understand, trust and work with the information for as long as you need to
Once information is no longer of value to the organisation then it should be disposed of. Disposal can mean deletion but can also mean that the information will be transferred elsewhere, for example, to an archive or another government organisation.
Look at your own organisation:
- Do you manage information according to its value?
- Are you disposing of information once it is no longer needed?
If not, what are you waiting for?