What is actually important in records?

I think it’s two things –

  1. That we capture reliable business evidence.
  2. That it gets used.

I don’t think that there’s much point doing the first if the second doesn’t happen.

Number 2 is also where almost everyone has a huge opportunity to raise their game.

If we define quality as the accessability of information in our records, we can say that usage of the records we keep will be highly reliant on their quality.

High Quality = information easily accessible.

Low Quality = information hard to access.

An example using an approval as a use case:

  • Low Quality – a conversation that spans 17 emails with multiple participants dealing with tangents to the approval in the same email chain who have all then filed their emails against the transaction – so we have 17 emails x 5 participants or 85 emails that we have to trawl through to find the approval and then get confident we understand it.
  • High Quality – a form listing what is being approved, any conditions or information necessary to make the decision and a great big digital stamp on it saying APPROVED.

No one would say that the high quality example above doesn’t represent both a better record, and higher quality business information.

The problem I’ve found, is that very few records managers want to be responsible for transitioning the way people keep their records from the low quality example, to the high quality example.

The perception is that business units are the custodians – so they should manage quality. The problem with this idea, is that business units are not records experts. They’re doers with a specific field of expertise.

Organising information isn’t anywhere in their skillset.

They likely wouldn’t know a taxonomy if they tripped over it.

They have a bar to jump – “I get this information from someone, and then I get to go to the next step in my process.”

How good that information is doesn’t matter to them – as long as they jump the bar.

They’re not thinking about next time they or someone else need that information.

They’re not thinking about how their managers will use the information.

Their managers aren’t thinking about how other parts of the organisation will use the information.

So records becomes both a collective action problem, and a tragedy of the commons problem.

So SOMEONE else has to think holistically.

So who should it be?

At a time when records is struggling to get budget.

Struggling for staff.

Struggling to get people to take records seriously.

Struggling to get people to do what legislation, regulation and company policy say they should.

It should be us.

Because if we aren’t responsible for records quality, if we don’t focus on making sure that the records we spend our lives keeping are actually used.

No one else will.

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