Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Items constituting evidence of actions taken and information supplied in the course of business are records. Records are not made up only of documents such as invoices, notifications of admission decisions, or examination minutes. Work emails and their attachments and even text chats may also be records if their content and context justify their categorisation as such. Records management uses a toolbox including policies and recommendations to ensure that such evidence remains complete, authentic, usable and accessible for as long as it is needed and that its integrity is not compromised.
The term “file” is often associated with the traditional file folders in ring binders that are now becoming rarer as ever more administrative operations are handled entirely electronically. But the same rules apply whether processes are handled using hard copies on paper or electronic soft copies – uniform filing structures, for instance, and transparent and controlled access. The Records Management unit will be pleased to advise you further on this and supply recommendations and guidance documents on electronic record keeping.
There are at least two important reasons why engaging with records management is worthwhile. One is that records management – because of its role in ensuring that administrative actions are transparent, comprehensible and in conformity with the law – is simply essential for modern administration in states founded on the rule of law. Another is that sound records management makes it easier for everybody to find the information they are looking for quickly and reliably – from the person making an application to the person processing it or a third person auditing it later. This also makes it easier to shoulder tasks normally or previously accomplished by someone else – when a member of staff is out sick, for instance, or when responsibilities change.
Decisions on adding documents to records and files need to be made by the organisational unit responsible using context-dependent criteria. When retention periods have not already been predetermined by statutory requirements or internal regulations, some criteria that can be applied to test the relevance of documents for record-keeping purposes include: Does the document make decisions and administrative actions transparent and comprehensible? Is it needed for a complete representation of the facts of a matter? If the rights of third parties are or could be affected, a litigation risk exists, or actions have budget-related or financial effects, it is especially likely that the relevance of records should be assumed.
The policy paper “Aktenrelevanz von Dokumenten” [Relevance of documents for records] by the ITVA working group (status as of 16 July 2009) contains some useful further advice (in German only).
Emails that contain relevant information falling within the scope of official duties do need to be retained, yes. An email could be relevant if it contains factual information on a matter or insights extending beyond mere facts that make the grounds for a given administrative decision easier to understand. However, messages concerned only with clarifying such issues as meeting times and room bookings can be deleted. The Records Management unit is happy to provide recommendations on determining the relevance of information for records and to work together with other units to develop simple and legally watertight processes for storing emails that need to be retained.
As a rule, media disruption should be avoided because it compromises the completeness and transparency of processes. Individual business processes should ideally be managed as uniformly as possible– either on paper or electronically. Qualified electronic signatures make it possible to send and store documents electronically in a legally watertight manner even when they are subject to the statutory requirement of written form. When legal reasons make it impossible to avoid media disruption – by excluding the validity of documents in electronic form, for example – the completeness of processing should be maintained by means of printouts or scans. It is vitally important that the link between paper-based and electronic processing is established in these cases using file reference numbers and clear cross-referencing. Media disruption is also more or less inevitable in some other cases, for example when large quantities of supplementary material are received that cannot practicably be scanned. In such cases, an efficient and pragmatic approach to creating and managing files is called for.
The retention period describes the minimum period for which documents must be retained after the completion of processing. The duration that is appropriate depends on the individual case, the area in which it has arisen, and the specifics of records management in that area. Statutory retention periods are especially likely to apply to budget, tax and personnel-related matters. Other matters may be governed by ministerial requirements or university policy. Depending on the specific issue at hand, responsibility for managing files may lie with more than one organisational unit. Records Management can assist with determining retention periods, but final decisions on how long records must be retained fall within the scope of responsibilities of the person or unit in charge of the relevant issues.
The filing plan supplies an overarching organisational structure that allows all the information that is relevant for record keeping to be logically arranged in records and files. As such, it enables a quick overview of the entirety of the files as well as enabling topic-based and task-based modes of accessing to files – and this overview is durable in the long-term even as staff members come and go, and terminology evolves and changes. File numbers and reference numbers are derived from the filing plan.
The document management system is already operational in some areas. Experience suggests that implementing comprehensive support for file management in all areas by means of a DMS will take quite some time; the business processes in different areas are highly diverse and their support requirements reflect this diversity. Various areas are currently working on developing models for the gradual phasing-in of the DMS and its application in specific areas. During the current transitional period, the recommendations and policy statements provided by Records Management aim to ensure that conventional record keeping based on hard copies and file repositories meets requirements as well as possible.
The University Archives are mainly concerned with cataloguing, organising and describing written records and a wide range of other information representing the past and present at the University of Bamberg. Determining and preserving the context in which this information arose forms a part of this endeavour. Adhering to this principle both preserves the authenticity of records and facilitates their retrieval, for example finding missing information on study periods and examination results. The archive staff have a vast store of experience in the area of managing records and are happy to bring their skills and experience to bear on supporting the university administration right from the initial creation of files.