Lost in the Shuffle: Ensuring Information is Accessible After a Government Re-organization

November 9, 2016 - Teresa Redlick, Archivist, Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan and Melanie Coyle, Analyst

Recently, the Information and Privacy Commissioner has issued Review Report 178-2016.  This report addresses a situation where the Applicant requested e-mails from an area of government that had recently been shuffled in a government re-organization.

The new Ministry provided the Applicant with a fee estimate. The e-mails had not been properly archived when transferred to the Ministry. The fees were to cover the cost of retrieving the e-mails from a de-activated account. The Commissioner pointed out that if the e-mails had been properly archived, the fee may not have been necessary. He urged the Ministry not to pass on the cost of government inefficiencies to a citizen.

The Commissioner also recommended all Ministries to review their record retention policy relating to government reorganization and the archiving of e-mail. Government organizations require a lot of planning and work. Budgets must be divided. Staff might be redeployed and responsibilities reassigned. But it is equally as important to ensure that records are dealt with appropriately. Having a plan for records management in place can ensure that records are available to the government institution, the public and cut down on any costs associated with retrieval. More importantly, it can ensure that records are not lost for good.

The best way to ensure that information is accessible after a re-organization is to properly manage the information to begin with. Like other government records, e-mail must be classified and disposed of in accordance with an applicable approved retention schedule. An institution’s filing system should be based on retention schedule(s) and e-mails should be captured in the filing system so that they can be found alongside other records related to the same activity or business transaction. All government institutions must develop policies and procedures for managing e-mail. The policy should tell employees how e-mail will be captured into the filing system: through the use of Electronic Document and Records Management Software (EDRMS), saved on shared drives, or printed and filed.

When a re-organization occurs, the institutions involved should sign a formal agreement defining responsibilities over the records and detailing the records that will be transferred. In some cases, only records currently required for business purposes will be transferred, while in others all records belonging to the business area will be transferred. All employees affected by the re-organization should ensure that their e-mails have been captured in the filing system using the method outlined in the institution’s e-mail management policy. This way, e-mail will be transferred to the receiving institution within the paper filing system, shared electronic drives, or the EDRMS where it can be searched for and retrieved, and there should be no need to re-activate old e-mail accounts in order to retrieve records.

Before transferring electronic records, the institution currently responsible for them should ensure that they are legible and accessible. The institution receiving the records should likewise make certain that they have the means to make incoming electronic records legible and accessible. The institution receiving the records should be provided with a copy of the former owner’s e-mail management policy so that they understand how e-mails have been managed, as well as copies of any filing systems or applicable schedules used to classify records so they understand how records have been organized. Institutions receiving records should note that if no applicable schedule for the records exists, one will need to be developed in the future.

To read Review Report 178-2016 click here.

For Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan Guidelines for Transferring Custody of Records click here.

For Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan Email Management Guidelines click here.

 

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