It is with thanks to Mark Mandel’s latest post, The State of the Art in Records Management, Part 1, that I have the courage to state what might be regarded by some as pure records management blasphemy: All information is a record.
I came to this conclusion after I decided to simplify my life to make room for dramatic complications to it in the near future. I decided I’d get any extraneous stuff out of the way in anticipation of those events. I started by having a garage sale to get rid of a bunch of unnecessary “stuff.” Then I discarded the whole “record versus non-record” argument. It leads nowhere. And, other than record managers, who cares? What people REALLY want to know is “should I keep this or get rid of it?” The answer to that question has very little to do with whether or not it’s a record.
So, here’s the logic from an Information Governance perspective:
Here’s the logic from a Records Management Perspective:
So, what value did that extra step add for anyone? As the Records Manager, I still have to manage the retention and disposition of EVERYTHING, regardless of whether or not it came out of the “Declare it a Record” step. And our attorneys need to apply the discovery process to EVERYTHING, no matter where it falls in the decision process. So, based on the assumption that, in order to be able to defensibly dipose of anything, it must have a retention period associated with it, everything has to have a retention period.
I can see that delineating between records and non-records could be useful if you just don’t have the bandwidth to manage everything and want to limit your scope to just “records.” Or it might be used as a tool to keep you in line by anyone that doesn’t want you to have authority to manage “everything.” Declaring some stuff “non-records” is a way for them to avoid any oversight of how they manage that “other” information. When I proposed the governance model for SharePoint, one counter proposal was “Can’t we just say nothing in SharePoint is a record and therefore SharePoint content is excluded from the Records Management policy?” Um, no…not even remotely an option.
The downside to the whole records/non-records distinction is that we tell users to go to the Records Retention Schedule to figure out how long to keep things. If we exclude non-records (Convenience Copies, Transitory Communications) from that schedule, do they need to go to yet another document to get instructions on what to do with that information? And if we include non-records on the schedule, then we need to rename the schedule, because we’ve just listed stuff on it that isn’t a record. A comprehensive retention policy dictates disposition of all information, even the stuff that isn’t a record. So, as long as you have one schedule that dictates whether or not to keep something and one set of procedures that explain how to do that (keep it or get rid of it), is there any need to apply a “record” or “non-records” label during the life cycle of the information?
So, here’s my best impersonation of Linda Richman from CoffeeTalk:*
”Records Retention; it’s neither about records, nor retention…discuss.”
(Answer: It’s really about information life cycle.)
I’m testing the waters here in the AIIM forum, then I’ll put forth this theory during my sessions at the ARMA Conference …..wish me luck.
* see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee_Talk for a listing of other Coffee Talk discussion topics. Hysterical.
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