When and why things should be documented
Knowing when and why records should be created is the first step to good records management.
One major reason for creating records is that they provide proof that certain actions or events occurred, and can be used to meet accountability standards and legal requirements. But ensuring transparency and withstanding outside scrutiny is not the only reason why records should be created: records also shed light on the University's past actions, and act as an information source to guide future similar actions within the University. For an organisation with a perpetual mission, the ability to learn from our past through an "institutional memory" is critical.
As a general guide, you should create a written record whenever you do any of the following in connection with the University:
- When you are making a decision or exercising a University responsibility - it is important to document the fact of your decision and the reasoning behind it; the more significant or weighty the decision, the more thoroughly you should document the reasoning.
- When you are doing something that is important or needs to be accountable - for instance, transactions, contracts, meeting discussions, and things monitored by regulatory agencies.
- When you are taking action that you might need to provide evidence of in the future - for instance, an action that someone might complain about or challenge.
- When you are doing something that you think might be useful for you or others to refer back to in the future - such as something that the University is likely to do again.
- As a researcher or teacher, any time you would ordinarily capture something for your own academic purposes - such as keeping data to substantiate research, recording student grades, or retaining lecture notes for future classes.
How should records be created?
The act of creating a record does not have to be onerous - it does not necessarily mean creating a formal or complex document. What type of "record" is appropriate to each circumstance will be a matter of common sense and judgment. For instance, if you simply want to record the fact that you had a particular conversation on a particular day, then a notation in your work diary may be sufficient; whereas if you are negotiating with another university to undertake a joint research project, then a more formal document trail and legal agreements may be required.
Whenever you document something, or write something down either electronically or in hardcopy, you create a "record" of that event. The record may be quite informal - a brief email, a note in your diary or a comment on a piece of scrap paper - but it is nevertheless a "record". It is important to remember this, as even when creating informal records you should ask yourself whether it needs to be captured in a University file (see capturing records).
Things should be documented as they are happening, or as soon as possible after the event, while it is still fresh in your memory.
Creating records that reflect our core functions
It is important to remember that management, financial and administrative activities are only one aspect of the University's function: our core functions are education and research. Accordingly, it is crucial that we create records that encapsulate our academic activities.
Fortunately, academic staff members are already accomplished "record keepers": through their academic training and experience, they are naturally skilled in keeping records of what they do. They create a "record" of their academic activity every time they keep track of articles or books they read, create an evidence trail for any research they undertake, or capture their lecture and assessment materials from year to year for use when they next teach the same course. "Record keeping" is a natural and inherent part of the academic profession.
Once a record is created, the next crucial step is capturing that record, where appropriate, as a "University record". Our institutional records should reflect the University's activities: academic, administrative, financial and managerial (see capturing records).