There are many reasons why keeping good records helps the University achieve its goals. As a publicly funded institution operating in a heavily regulated and highly competitive environment, the University as an institution is expected to be compliant and accountable to an increasing number of external agencies and bodies, and to the public community it serves. Achieving "institutional" accountability is a challenge, because the University is a highly decentralised organisation, in which many autonomous individuals and departments carry out the core functions of the institution.
This means that the University relies on its people to collect and maintain evidence of their activity - for instance, by documenting management decisions that people might make or participate in on behalf of the University, as well as the kinds of records you would ordinarily capture in the course of your academic, research or administrative roles - and capturing such records within the University's system to maintain our institutional memory.
The University as an institution cannot meet its accountability standards without the active assistance of all its personnel. And maintaining our institutional accountability is essential if the University environment we all enjoy is to be preserved.
Remember, this is not about individual accountability or doing extra work: it is about the University's institutional accountability, and doing what is required to uphold that. What is most important is that records be accurate, reliable and locatable: both for you, and for others in the future.
There are two kinds of record keepers.
The first has a system for managing their records - it may not be identical to anyone else's system, but it is organised and appropriate to their own style and needs. They make the capture of records into their University files a part of their everyday routine - either on their own or with the help of a support person - so that they hardly even notice they are doing it. Their records are captured consistently and with little effort. When something comes up that requires them to put their hands on evidence of a previous action, they can locate it with minimum inconvenience.
The second kind of record keeper believes it is "too hard" to think about records on a day-to-day basis. They pile documents up in their office, with no order or organization to them. If they do ever organize their records, they do so on an ad hoc, mass-capture basis that takes a lot of time and effort, and leads to sloppy and inconsistent capture of their work. If an issue comes up that requires them to find old records, they go through a massive effort to locate and capture their records - and in many cases cannot find them, putting themselves and the University at risk.
The creation and proper management of records is central to the success of the University's diverse array of activities. The University's contributions to research, education and society represent a significant contribution to the nation's history.
As a centre for knowledge, discovery and education, and as a publicly funded institution, it is critical for the University to maintain a reliable "institutional memory", which serves as evidence of its activity, and as a meaningful collation of its education and research outcomes - and of its contributions to academia and the wider community.
It is essential to the successful conduct of our complex business that we create and retain a complete and accurate record of what we do - intellectually, commercially, and administratively. It is easy to think that this means keeping records of our employment relationships, financial transactions or contracts; but the "institutional memory" or central records repository should also include academic and research records, and documents that explain the reasoning behind management style decisions across the University.
In everyday language, a "record" is an account of something, a collection of information, a compilation of facts; something that is written or otherwise set down in a way that preserves its content. A record is anything that provides tangible evidence of information or past events.
From the University's perspective, a "record" comprises recorded information in any form (regardless of format) that is:
- created or received by the University in the course of transacting its business or carrying out its activities, and
- retained as evidence of that activity or business.
The record might be an email, letter, lab book, diagram, photograph, set of lecture handouts, payment receipt - or anything else tangible (or reproducible) that shows what the University does, has done, or will be doing.
Under the Australian Standard on Records Management (ISO 15489) - a standard the University aspires to - the term "record" refers to "documents created, received and maintained as evidence and information by an organisation or person, in pursuance of legal obligations or in the transaction of business". For the University, both of these drivers (legal obligations and the transaction of business) matter: we have legal obligations under the State Records Act 1997 as well as the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research to retain and manage records in a particular way, and it is essential to the successful conduct of our complex business that we create and retain a complete and accurate record of what we do.
The University's Records Management Policy articulates the responsibilities of every University staff member, titleholder, adjunct and affiliate who create or receive records on behalf of the University or in the course of their University role or affiliation.
All staff, titleholders, adjuncts and affiliates should read the short Policy and be familiar with its contents:
Any questions about the Policy should be directed to the University Archives, Records and Collections office.
The University has a range of legal obligations and other external drivers that require us to keep and manage records in certain ways. Our legal obligations arise from several sources - including legislation, mandated standards and contracts.
Some of the major obligations, which are relevant to all University employees, are discussed below.
State Records Act (SA) 1997
This law applies to the University, as well as State government agencies. It requires us to preserve and maintain "official records" - which means any record created or received in the course of carrying out the University's operations or business.
It is important to realise that this law applies not only to employees of the University, but to anyone else who creates or receives documents on behalf of the University (such as titleholders, contractors, agents and ARI Pty Ltd). Such documents should also be incorporated into the University's official records system.
Adequate Records Management Standard
Related to the State Records Act, the University also must comply with the Adequate Records Management Standard. This Standard is mandatory, sets out more detailed guidance for managing records, and forms the primary basis upon which the University would be audited for compliance with the legislation.
Freedom of Information Act (SA)
This law gives members of the public a right to access our records with some exceptions, such as where records contain personal or confidential information. This right means that the University is required to produce documents that are requested under Freedom of Information (FOI), within a very limited time frame and in line with certain procedures.
For the University to meet its FOI obligations, it is essential that all relevant areas of the University cooperate in identifying and producing all documents that are possibly relevant to an application - including "documents" stored electronically, such as emails.
The coordination of FOI applications on behalf of the University is also essential, and occurs through an accredited FOI Officer located in University Archives, Records and Collections.
Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research
Commonly called the "Research Code", this includes specific requirements for the recording and retention of research materials, data and records. Although research materials may be anything from a tissue sample to a complex computer algorithm, research "data" and "records" are tangible University records that must be maintained not only in accordance with the Research Code but also with other records laws, like the State Records Act. Compliance with the Research Code is now required as a condition of ARC and NHMRC research funding - and it is just good research practice to have a tangible evidence trail supporting your findings and tracing your lines of inquiry.
University's Policy relating to the Research Code
Other external drivers - maintaining accountability
Apart from legal requirements to keep certain records, the University is also expected to retain complete and transparent records in order to maintain accountability and answer scrutiny from a range of external sources.
By way of example, these are just some of the people or bodies we answer to:
- State Records SA,
- the Auditor General
- the Federal and State Education departments
- the Australia Research Council (ARC)
- the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC),
- other funding bodies
- industry partners
- and individual members of the public (who are entitled to access our records under Freedom of Information).
In short, records management is not only about complying with recordkeeping standards and legislation: it is also about ensuring we have tangible evidence to meet all our other obligations and demonstrate accountability to our funders, collaborators and overseers.