Creating records which contain all relevant content and contextual information not only ensures that the transaction in question has been fully and appropriately documented, but also that the record has value as a source of information to others.
Why is this important?
Any ‘record’ which has parts of its content missing, or is otherwise incomplete, will clearly not be reliable as a source of evidence and is likely to be disregarded as such. This could leave the institution unable to explain its actions and thus defend its legal interests.
Incomplete records not only reduce their informational value, they can also prove to be positively misleading and potential dangerous. The user may not be aware of important additional information, amendments or clarifications which may fundamentally alter the meaning of the record. This may lead to well-meaning but incorrect decisions being made based on false assumptions.
Records that are incomplete will be reliant on the memory, knowledge or experience of the end user to ‘fill in the blanks’. Where all staff are in possession of such skills, this may not be an issue in the short term. However, temporary contracts and high staff turnover mean that few areas of the institution will be in this situation. Furthermore, the longer after the point of creation that the record is accessed for information, the less likely it is that the memory of staff can be relied upon to ‘fill in the gaps’ – increasing the risk.
How to create complete records
- When designing a new record-creating system, define exactly what information it is appropriate to capture (time/date, location, author, purpose, outcome etc) and where possible use system design to capture this information automatically as part of carrying out the transaction
- When designing document and form templates consider their design and specify which elements must or should be completed. Use document properties to enforce completion of all mandatory elements
- When archiving emails as records ensure that all component parts of the message are retained as a complete set (for example, content of message, transmission information and attachment(s). Further information on management of emails as records is available from the email management strand of this guide
- Ensure any files containing OLE links to other associated files are managed consistently and that the links are retained. This may be especially important when moving files from one location within the file plan to another, or when deleting some files
- Consider the appropriate ‘unit of management’ for a record. For example, when managing web resources, does each webpage stand alone as a complete record, or is it more appropriate to consider the complete website as the record?