"It's not my job to do records" - what every government employee needs to know
As an information and records manager, I have heard many public servants utter a sentence similar to the one above. In fact, a significant part of my role as a records manager in government was helping people in the agencies I worked for understand their roles and responsibilities for records. I first did this in Defence, then two NSW State Government agencies, and now Tasmania – and the conversation is generally the same.
We don’t know what we don’t know
Government employees seem to have a general understanding that the government needs to keep records, and many know there is a piece of legislation related to those requirements; but they don’t understand what a ‘record’ is. People get caught up thinking it’s just correspondence, financial details and maybe policies and procedures – so it’s understandable that most employees think that recordkeeping is not part of their role, if they don’t do those functions.
But a record is so much more, as the National Archives states in their Keep the Knowledge training:
“Records provide evidence of your agency’s business. All information created, sent and received in the course of carrying out your job is potentially a record.”
Yes, that includes emails, faxes (they are still used), letters, reports, documents, minutes, etc. If it captures a decision, advice or instruction – it’s a record. If it explains or justifies what you have done; shows the extent of your responsibility for decisions taken; or, shows the order of events and your role in them – it’s a record.
Do your staff get induction training on records?
Some departments and agencies do this well, ensuring that all new staff understand what records are, how they are managed in the business and staff responsibilities – but many don’t. There seems to be a feeling that staff will learn by osmosis, just being in government; or the agency doesn’t understand their own recordkeeping requirements well enough in the first instance. Remember that government recordkeeping is different than private enterprise, or the non-government sector.
Understanding recordkeeping and an individual’s responsibilities is vital to ensuring that your organisation actually creates, captures and maintains its records appropriately. You cannot rely on the records officer or administrative staff alone. You cannot expect that IT will provide systems that do it for you. Recordkeeping relies on people understanding when something is a record; how they have to capture it for their agency; and taking the steps to do just that.
Something to get you started
Based on information and guidance from National Archives, NSW State Records and Tasmanian Archives and Heritage Office, we have developed a simple one pager for you to adapt and adjust for your agency/department. It contains all of the basic information a government employee requires to start understanding the breadth and depth of the records they create and interact with – records that should be captured and stored in a formal manner.
If you would like to learn more about how we can help your agency tackle its records management challenges, contact us to learn about Acrodata’s products and service.