Common problems and their causes
There is nothing more frustrating than knowing that a particular document or email exists but being unable to find it. At best it is an inconvenience and a waste of time, at worst it could lead to your institution breaking the law. Information held in shared filing spaces such as network drives is particularly prone to going missing.
‘Lost’ information is usually caused by one or more of the following:
- Unhelpful and inconsistent naming of files
- Misinterpreting or ignoring the agreed filing structure
- Lack of an agreed filing structure
- Use of personal space to store ‘corporate’ information
- Keeping too much information – which means you can’t see the wood for the trees.
Why this issue is important
Aside from the obvious waste of time and effort already mentioned, there are other potentially more serious implications of not being able to find information in a timely manner.
There are now specific legal requirements which impose strict deadlines on how quickly institutions must be able to find and provide information.
Under the Data Protection Act 1998 an institution has 40 days to provide access to any personal information it may hold about the individual making the request. Whereas both the Freedom of Information Act and Environmental Information Regulations require the institution to provide access to information requested within 20 working days.
As the remit of these requests can include just about everything that the institution does and applies to all forms of recorded information, this can be a significant undertaking and may well depend on finding information held only by one particular individual.
Auditors, both internal and external may also start to ask potentially awkward questions about your processes if important information documenting key decisions or milestones cannot be quickly and easily produced on request.
Missing information can also lead to bad decision-making. When pressed for time, the temptation can be to give up looking for that vital piece of information and to make a decision based on the information to hand. Without the complete picture decisions can be made that are based on the best of intentions but the worst of evidence.