Researching retention requirements

Identifying requirements

Records' retention must be based on:

  • the current and future business needs of the organisation
  • compliance with legal and governance requirements of the organisation
  • the current and future needs of internal and external stakeholders including the wider community.

The main sources for determining retention periods are:

  • administrative and legal precedent
  • legislation
  • policy
  • procedures
  • general orders
  • standards such as ISO 9000 or National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA)
  • community research requirements.

When interviewing staff members, rather than asking ‘how long should a record be kept?’ ask more specific questions about how they use the record, for example:

  • do you need to refer to the record again after the matter is completed?
  • how long after a record is created do you refer to it?
  • what is commonly the last action in a particular transaction (there may be several scenarios)?
  • is there a legal reason or an appeal process that you might need the record for?
  • do other areas of the organisation use the records (for example, internal auditors)?
  • is there a community interest in the records?

There is an expectation by the community that certain records will be made available for research and historical purposes.

Special format records

It is important to ensure that all records of the public sector organisation are covered by the functional records disposal schedule, regardless of format. Records often overlooked include:

  • photographic collections
  • maps and plans
  • moving images
  • databases and other corporate systems
  • online resources and services.

Relating retention requirements to functions and activities

While functions and activities provide the framework of a records disposal schedule, an understanding of how records are organised is also important. During the analysis process, different activities may have been identified but in practice they all appear on a single file. A decision will need to be made on whether to replace the identified activities with a single term. For example, identified activities of applications, renewals and notifications, which all appear on a single file, can be indicated by a term such as authorisation or project management.

Paired classes – major / minor

Disposal schedule classes often use terms such as ‘major’ or ‘significant’, contrasted with classes for ‘minor’ or ‘other’ records relating to the same activity. When using major / minor distinctions it is important to clarify in the ‘description of records’ in the disposal schedule, what is meant by these distinctions. For example, it might be qualified by whether a building is heritage listed for permanent retention of plans, or if there was a major shift in policy or where a new precedent is set.

Privacy and security

Many records contain information on individuals, which gives rise to privacy concerns. While privacy is an important concern, it is not a reason in itself to destroy a record, unless destruction of the record was explicit when the records were created, (for example, the collection of survey data). Some records that are sensitive from a privacy perspective, such as personnel or workers' compensation files, also require long retention periods to protect an individual's rights and entitlements.

Disposal triggers

In addition to the actual retention period, a ‘disposal trigger’ must be identified, that is the event from which the retention period must be calculated. The most common trigger is ‘action completed’. Action completed is the date of the latest document or notation attached to the file, or the last update made to the record in the database.

The selection of the disposal trigger may also depend upon the type of record and the reason for retention and / or disposal. Other common triggers include (x years) ‘...after superseded’, ‘...after expiry of agreement’, ‘...after date of birth’.

The practicality of disposal triggers must ensure they are applicable and machine readable.
Permanent retention means that the record cannot be destroyed and will be transferred to the Northern Territory Archives Service as a Territory Archive.

Please note: For consistency of disposal triggers across government the current version of Administrative Functions of the NTG is an excellent guide for the types of disposal triggers typically in use.

For further information please refer to The Australasian Digital Recordkeeping Initiative (ADRI) Glossary of Disposal Schedules.

Last updated: 07 March 2019

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