By Michelle Johnson
There’s no sugar coating it – starting or revitalizing a records and information management (RIM) program is a huge undertaking. Whether you are bringing life back to outdated processes or starting from scratch, it can be difficult to know where to start. We have broken the process into three stages: Information Gathering, Planning, and Implementation. This guide will help you stand your RIM program up on its feet and take off running.
The Information Gathering Stage
Define your roles and responsibilities.
Don’t skip this step! Understanding the scope of the work to be done is vital to keeping you on task and in budget.
1. Designate a Records Management Officer (RMO) and file compliance paperwork.
Statute requires every Texas state agency and local government to designate an RMO and file certain compliance paperwork with TSLAC. State agencies should use form SLR 104. Local governments can reference our compliance guide to determine which forms are needed. If you aren’t sure if or what you need to file, contact your analyst for guidance.
Note that the RMO isn’t required to personally manage every single record your government owns. As a matter of fact, we encourage records management to be a team effort! The RMO is simply the person who has ultimate authority and responsibility for your government’s RIM program.
2. Make a list of ideal services your RIM program could offer to your government, e.g.:
- Develop retention schedules
- Records storage (on-site, off-site, cloud, etc.)
- Staff training
- Public information request coordination
- Centralized records disposition
- Organization of inter-departmental RIM committees and collaboration
3. Refine the list by separating current services from future goals.
Don’t pressure yourself to implement all services at once. Instead, identify what you can do now and make plans for implementing the rest over time. Keeping future goals in mind will help you to imagine long-term needs when acquiring resources and setting up systems.
4. Communicate your goals internally.
Getting buy-in is essential for the success of your program, and having a well-thought-out plan will help you communicate the benefits of RIM to key stakeholders. We particularly encourage building strong relationships with your IT team.
Conduct an internal audit.
Gathering data about your existing processes provides the information necessary to effect change – both corrective and preventive – and can help you negotiate for resources.
1. Assemble a team.
A program audit is a big undertaking, so it is vital to have help at this stage.
2. Define audit areas.
Determine which RIM processes you want to evaluate, criteria for measuring success / need for improvement, and how you will measure results. Think about answering questions such as:
- Are users able to quickly and efficiently locate information?
- Are employees following records control schedules and other policies?
- Does your organization comply with legal mandates?
- Is sensitive information properly protected?
- Do employees know when records are subject to litigation?
3. Determine the evaluation method for each audit area.
Not all aspects of a records program will be evaluated in the same way, so you want to determine how best to identify successes and room for improvement in each review area. Some methods to consider are:
- Inspecting records and documentation
- Analyzing procedures
- Interviewing staff
4. Conduct the audit and compile information.
The Planning Stage
Develop training materials and procedures.
It takes continuous, organization-wide cooperation to ensure that records are managed properly, which means that training is key. Bear in mind that the point of training isn’t necessarily to make experts out of every staff member! The goal is for staff to be aware that records rules exist and to be empowered to ask questions and seek information when needed.
1. Identify current gaps in RIM knowledge and training.
Think about where your organization is falling short on records management and how different individuals can help alleviate these issues. This will help you determine who you need to recruit to assist with records management and what training they need. As you identify your records team, consider how you might turn records liaisons into champions for your RIM program.
2. Consider the ideal format for training.
The format you use for training may vary depending on factors like staff responsibility level, available resources, and staff expertise. Bear in mind that it is often helpful to offer trainings in multiple formats simultaneously, e.g.:
- In-person training sessions
- Online modules
- Written guidelines
3. Create or gather training materials.
Don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to training. There are lots of free training resources, including many options offered by TSLAC, if you don’t have the need or resources to create your own.
In order to develop the policies that govern classification, storage, and retention of your records, you first must know what types of records your government manages. You may be able to refer to your internal audit data to help with this step.
Identify what records your government has and where they are located. Focus on identifying types of information rather than individual files or documents. To accomplish this, consider distributing a spreadsheet that will allow staff members, records liaisons, or department heads to identify this information themselves. See an example records inventory spreadsheet from Emory University.
You can also watch the National Archives’ Summer School for Records Coordinators, Records Inventories for an in-depth overview of the inventory process.
Create a retention schedule.
Local governments are required to prepare retention schedules, but they are not required to submit those schedules to TSLAC. We strongly encourage local governments to customize their schedules, but they can also simply reference the retention minimums dictated in the Local Government Retention Schedules published by TSLAC.
Create a filing system.
A thoughtfully designed filing system helps staff across your organization use consistent terminology, identify who is responsible for records, and locate information.
1. Determine filing structure for different types of records.
We recommend using a retention-conscious filing system to alleviate guesswork when it’s time to conduct records disposition. This means using records series codes and/or retention periods within your filing structure. For example, this could mean titling a folder “Webinars GEN.018 AC+1” instead of just “Webinars.” This allows staff to see how long the files must be kept and which records series to reference for more information.
2. Determine naming conventions.
This is particularly important when sorting affects records access, for instance when using dates that will be organized based on year, month, or day. See our blog for more in-depth guidance to classifying records.
3. Make rules available to staff.
This could be a master plan used by the entire government, specialized procedure documents within departments, or a mix of the two. The most important factor of your filing system is consistency.
Create a storage plan.
It’s important to know where records are located, whether in physical or electronic format, on-site or off-site. Storage and filing are related, so you may want to make decisions for these in tandem with each other.
1. Plan and map your physical records.
Maintaining reference maps of where records are stored can ease confusion and cut down on retrieval time. Local governments should refer to Bulletin F for legal requirements and best practices for the storage of physical records.
2. Plan and map your electronic records.
It may not be enough to rely on search functions to locate where electronic records are stored, especially if your government uses multiple hosting services and databases. It’s good practice to map electronic records as well as physical records. Be sure to refer to minimum standards and procedures for electronic records: Bulletin B for local governments and Bulletin 1 for state agencies.
3. Plan for emergencies.
It is important to protect the vital records that would be necessary to continue operations in the event of a natural disaster or other emergency. See our tips for emergency preparedness.
The Implementation Stage
As you put your plans into practice, remember that your program will mature over time. The initial results may not reflect your ideal RIM program, but they are the beginning of something that will grow and improve. Following the steps above will help set you up for long-term success.
Have lessons to share after starting or revamping your own RIM program? Tell us about your experiences in the comments!