These tips were produced by the Government of Alberta Records and Information Management: Information Management Branch. This information provides a summary of practical tips for effectively managing information and records at each stage of the information life cycle.
MANAGING INFORMATION At WORK
Information is received in many ways – e-mail (including attachments), fax, regular mail, downloading content from the Internet, handouts at meetings or seminars, and publications you subscribe to. Regardless of the format it is in, some information management decisions can be made as soon as you receive the information rather than holding and piling it up to deal with later.
- Do I need this to do my job?
- Am I the right person to receive this information?
- Who else needs to see this information?
- Is it sensitive or does it contain personal information?
- What is the source? Is copyright held by the Government of Alberta or someone else?
Sort and label immediately Decide what project or activity this information relates to. If you sort and label it as soon as you receive it, you won’t lose it and it will be in the right place when you need it.
Set up electronic files similar to your paper files
Set up e-mail inbox folders with the same subjects or functions as your record keeping system. This will make it easier to manage the information you receive.
Schedule specific times to deal with e-mail and stay on top of it
Get into a habit of dealing with your e-mail in batches rather than continuously facing e-mail interruptions throughout the day.
Organisations and institutions collect information, typically from clients and stakeholders, which helps them deliver programs and services. They collect this in many ways – paper and electronic forms, surveys, telephone calls, reports, counter staff.
- What do we need to do the job?
- Do we really need this? If it is personal, do we have the authority to collect it?
- How will we & others use it in the future?
- Are we collecting personal information?
- Do we have the systems in place to protect any personal or sensitive information?
Collect personal information only if you need it and have authority to do so
Many people collect personal information simply because it has always been done that way. This is not a good enough reason. You must have the legal authority that allows the collection, the purposes for which the information will be used, and the contact information for an employee who can answer questions about the collection.
Use a process that enables access and protection of the information
Ask yourself whether you will need to share the information with others and how you can protect personal information. For example, when creating a table, keep personal information in one column that you can sort and hide before sharing the information.
Make sure it’s correct and in context
Validate input to make sure it is accurate when you start. Maintain information in a manner that preserves the original intent and context.
Practice “just in time” collection
Make a plan for the exact information you will need and when you need it. Collecting information too far ahead of time may make it necessary for you to ensure the data is current when you require it.
We need to create records to track business decisions and transactions and to maintain institutional memory. Good record keeping can help us in the future to understand the conduct of our business today. It is also essential to be able to respond to legal challenges that might occur in the future. Create records so you and others can see a complete and objective picture in the future.
- How can I best communicate direction or recommendations to others?
- Will this prove how I have done my job?
- Will this information be needed for future use? Will others be able to use it?
- Does it accurately reflect what took place?
Create records that are clear and complete Get to the point, yet provide enough background so that information won’t be misinterpreted. Ensure it contains a date and that you can track versions (draft vs. final).
Write professionally and objectively Stick to facts, data and recommendations rather than opinions. Back up your professional opinions with facts. Pay close attention to e-mails; avoid using a casual tone, multiple topics and broad distribution lists.
Use consistent and meaningful titles and subject lines Use a title or subject line that will explain it most simply for others and make retrieving the document easy.
Use one subject per document, when possible Using one subject per document or e-mail, whenever possible, will simplify filing and retrieving the information. Be particularly aware of e-mail – avoid including many subjects in the same e-mail message.
Label documents to help future users Use headers and footers to label documents (title, date, version number, security classification, page numbers) to make them easier to use when printed.
DISPOSE OF IT OR KEEP IT & MANAGE IT
Lots of information can be disposed of quickly. But, early on, you need to decide whether you can dispose of it or whether you need to keep it, and hence, MANAGE it!
- Is this required to maintain/provide evidence of business transactions?
- Is there a legal obligation to keep this?
- Do you and others still need to refer to this in the future?
- Does your office have a Retention and Disposition Schedule for this record?
- Does this have only short-term value?
- Does someone else have a master or original?
- Can I support why I disposed of this?
- Am I disposing confidential, sensitive and personal information securely?
Part 2 will be available Next week.