Understanding Records Management

Records managment is “responsible for the efficient and systematic control of the creation, receipt, maintenance, use and disposition of records, including processes for capturing and maintaining evidence of and information about business activities and transactions in the form of records”. - United Nations Secretary General’s Bulletin ST/SGB/2007/5 on Record-keeping and the management of United Nations archives

 

We all rely on information to help us work effectively and to build the knowledge for ourselves and the Organization. Records management is the efficient and systematic control of the creation, receipt, maintenance, use and disposition of records. Records management is the process of identifying and protecting evidence, which comes in the form of records.

ARMS

What are Records?

Records are "information created, received, and mainteaned as evidence and information by an organization or person, in pursuance of legal obligations or in the transaction of business". This is the official definition. What does it mean in the context of our work? It means that whenever you create or receive a document in the course of your work and it provides evidence of an activity, decision, or transaction, you need to keep it as evidence, according to established UN retention schedules. That document becomes a record and must be stored safely so it remains accessible for as long as it's needed. 




What is the concept?

 

What does it mean to you?

Information is “data, ideas, thoughts, or memories irrespective of medium.” Information sources are considered “non-records”: they are useful but do not provide evidence. Examples include journals, newspapers, publications, or reference sources not created by the UN.

 

If the item in question provides information only and does not provide evidence of an activity, decision, or transaction related to your work at the UN, you should destroy the information when you no longer need it.

 

 

 

Documents are any “recorded information or objects that can be treated as individual units.” Examples include works in progress such as draft communications or “to do” lists, and transitory records such as emails confirming a meeting or acknowledging receipt of a document.

 

If a document is superseded by other documents, such as a draft report that is replaced by a newer version, and the first draft is not needed as evidence,
or if the document contains information that you need for only a short time – like a confirmation of the location of a meeting – you should destroy the document when you no longer need it.

 

 

 

Records are “information created, received, and maintained as evidence and information by an organization or person, in pursuance of legal obligations or in the transaction of business.” Examples include final reports, emails confirming an action or decision, spreadsheets showing budget decisions, photographs or maps of field missions, which need to be kept as evidence.

 

If you created or received the document in the course of your work and it provides evidence of an activity, decision, or transaction, you need to keep it as evidence, according to established UN retention schedules. That document becomes a record and must be stored safely so it remains accessible.

 

 

 

Archives are those records that have been selected for permanent preservation because of their administrative, informational, legal and historical value as evidence of official business of the UN. Archives are very small but important subset of the UN’s official records.

 

UN ARMS is responsible for helping you manage your records in order to protect valuable evidence of UN operations. UN ARMS also ensures records with archival value are preserved and made available.

What is the records lifecycle? 

All information and records go through a lifecycle. Knowing what stages records go through helps with identifying the most important activities that need to happen to protect and properly organize the Organization's records. 

 

The first phase - Create/receive - starts when records are either received from an external source or created internally. The objectives of this initial stage are: 

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Create complete and accurate records that provide evidence of the organization’s functions, activities, decisions, transactions, procedures, etc.

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Identify and apply an appropriate security classification

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Distinguish between records and non-record copies or working documents, to be able to appropriately segregate them in the filing system

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Place the record in an organizational classification scheme (or file plan) either in paper (e.g. in a filing cabinet or a binder) or in electronic version (e.g. on a shared drive or in a system) to ensure that it’s preserved within its context

 

After the first phase records immediately enter an Active phase of the lifecycle. It means that they are often used, shared between colleagues, retrieved to support day-to-day business and referred to. The objectives of this stage are: Create complete and accurate records that provide evidence of the organization's functions, activities, decisions, transactions, procedures, etc. 

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Identify and apply an appropriate security classification

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Distinguish between records and non-record copies or working documents, to be able to appropriately segregate them in the filing system

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Place the record in an organizational classification scheme (or file plan) either in paper (e.g. in a filing cabinet or in a binder) or in electronic version (e.g. on a shared drive or in a system) to ensure that it's preserved within its context 

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Preserve the integrity of the record, which means ensuring that it has not been altered after completion

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Maintain its usability which means making it available for all colleagues who need an access to the record to do their job

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Facilitate identification and preservation of records with permanent retention 

 

The active phase of the lifecycle may be short for some records (e.g. payroll records' active phase usually is only about two months) and long for others (e.g. a MoU between a field mission and a Host country government may be in its active stage for the entire duration of the mission’s operations). All records, however, move through the lifecycle and with time the retrieval rate often diminishes. At some point, they reach a stage when they are not needed anymore in the primary office space but must still be kept for evidentiary, legal, financial, or historical purposes, as dictated by the retention schedule. This is when they enter an Inactive phase of the lifecycle. During this stage, we should free up space in our offices to new records, but we need to ensure keeping inactive records handy. The objectives of this stage are: 

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Identify the records that are not required to be stored in the primary office space (paper) or systems/shared drives (electronic)

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Organize and list them

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Transfer them to the local Records Center (for field missions the local Records Center within mission area; for HQ offices the ARMS Records Center)

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Retrieve only those records that are needed from time to time

 

Finally, at the end of the lifecycle, records enter the stage a decision is made (usually based on an approved retention schedule) on what happens with records that entered the final stage of their life. It's called a Disposition phase. In the United Nations, there are two available disposition actions: either Archive or Destroy. It means that some portion of the records, usually about 5% of the total records' holdings of an office or a mission, that due to their historical value have a permanent retention, will be transferred to ARMS while the rest will be destroyed at some point. The objectives of this stage are: 

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Identify records with archival value (permanent retention), list them, organize them and sent them to ARMS

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Identify records due for disposal/destruction, list them, gather necessary approvals for the destruction and proceed with an environmentally friendly destruction process