Alongside authenticity and completeness, reliability is the third key quality common to all records worthy of the name. In many regards a record’s overall reliability will, to a large extent, be determined by the degree to which these other two qualities are present but it also exists as an important quality in its own right.
A record may have been created by the appropriate, authorised person and it may contain all of the elements that it should but these will count for little if that content is itself factually incorrect.
Why is this important?
The institution faces the same risks if creating unreliable records as it does if creating incomplete records, in terms of decisions being made based on inaccurate data. However, where content is present but incorrect that risk is increased. This is because the likelihood of it being accepted as the truth and acted upon as such is correspondingly higher.
It is not difficult to imagine examples of where incorrect information stated in unreliable records could materially damage the interests of stakeholders. For example, incorrect grades associated to a student, the wrong salary paid into a member of staff’s bank account or measurements mistakenly recorded in feet rather than metres on a plan.
It should also be remembered that when dealing with personal data it is a legal requirement to ensure that records containing personal data are accurate and where necessary up to date.
Lastly, as the main source of the historical record charting the development and progress of the institution, it is clearly in its long term interests to ensure that the records it creates are as accurate and reliable as possible.
How to create reliable records
- User training is often over looked as a critical aspect for ensuring the creation of reliable records. With a few notable exceptions (for example minute taking training for secretaries) there is often little emphasis placed on training staff to accurately record the transactions they perform. IT training is a good example where staff will be trained on the details of how to use Microsoft Word to create a document, but seldom on what it is they should be using it to create.
- System design should reduce the amount of data fields requiring manual entry by relying on macros and formats which enable data exchange between systems (such as XML).
- Errors often occur when staff are pressed for time and attempting to deal with a range of processes at any one time. The institution should attempt to create a culture which acknowledges that time spent creating accurate, reliable records is equally as valuable as that spent performing the functions to which they relate.
- Good practice itself helps create a ‘virtuous circle’. If users have access to accurate records when researching their work, the chances of they themselves creating accurate and reliable records is increased.