When you’re working with paper, it’s far easier to bin a record than to pay a team of people to organise and manage it – and that’s why we have records legislation.
Now we’re dealing with a different problem. Rather than being easy to destroy, it’s actually become difficult.
To be fair, what’s actually difficult is creating the conditions so that information is well organised.
When information is well organised, we know we can destroy with confidence.
When it’s poorly organised, the only thing we can do with confidence is retain.
I think that if agency heads had to sign a statement every year to the effect that “we have not retained any information longer than we are required to”, records managers in government would be in a very different situation.
I think we would also find many other initiatives easy – open data, open government, digital, anything involving data science – and everything else that relies on well organised information.
When we get right down to it, well organised information is a necessary precondition for solving almost every information, data and records management problem in existence.
And it would probably be cheaper overall.
I think it could all start with a change to mandate destruction, because mandatory destruction requires us to organise, and all mandatory retention incentivises is a mess.