On the Record: Archiving for your Government Agency’s Future
2020 marked one of the most demanding years in history for state and local governments. Overhauling the nature of work and strategizing newly constrained budgets were just a couple of the monumental tasks facing state and local officials. One common thread throughout these challenges: public records. From records management to archival efficiency, state and local governments have realized the massive need for modernizing and securing recordkeeping processes.
Public records are hallmarks of history
There are historical benefits to preserving communications. State archives departments and historical societies chronicle important records of the state for future generations. Preservation of public records serves important legal and governmental functions as well. State archives are one of the prime places for those doing legislative research or legal research that have a very real bearing on how our government works today.
Foundationally, government archives serve to protect the rights of the people because free access to records is one of the key hallmarks of a healthy democracy. When records are preserved properly and managed accordingly, they provide immutable context, which is not subject to interpretation as time goes on.
Today, many of these historic documents are being digitized to preserve and back up aging copies and dated formats. This means that state and local government agencies must have a long-term preservation plan for electronic records, as well. This requires ongoing discussion and planning with IT departments.
The evolution of public records archives
A key subset of government records are electronic communications, which are required to be preserved and produced when requested under state public records laws (“sunshine laws”) and the Freedom of Information Act. The importance of this obligation has become even more critical and challenging in a time of increased electronic communication due to the pandemic. Unfortunately, many agencies were unprepared for the onslaught of virtual communication records.
When we were working mostly in offices, many of our conversations were in person, unrecorded and therefore not subject to or shielded from public disclosure. Today, those conversations have all shifted to a digital environment. Employees are using collaboration and conferencing platforms, chat applications, text messages, email and social media to conduct business conversations.
The broadening of these channels combined with work-from-home measures has increased the volume and variety of communications data that must be preserved and available for public records or legal requests.
Simply put, business is not “as usual” anymore, and adding more staff to help preserve and manage these records is expensive and unsustainable. On top of that, failure to produce quick and adequate records can result in major consequences like legal action, hefty fines and reputational damage for the agency.
Tips for effective electronic communications archiving
The first step you can take to preserve electronic communications is to modernize your archiving technology to accommodate the channels your staff needs to effectively communicate. We recommend government agencies work with an archiving partner whose solution:
- Uses cloud storage so you can access records remotely and manage the increasing volume and variety of electronic records
- Provides direct-from-carrier capture of text messages
- Captures the broad variety of electronic communications data, in context and without the possibility of alteration
- Stores communications in a search-ready, easy-to-use archive that doesn’t require technical resources for data extraction
- Provides e-discovery capabilities to streamline the process
- Keeps your information secure and private
We also recommend that you have regular records management meetings to discuss agency-level programs and solutions with technology departments and all affected stakeholders. Create guidelines for employees that detail which electronic communications platforms are permitted or prohibited, and how they are being archived for public records retention.
The preservation of government-related electronic communications is a key part of an informed citizenry. Conversations among elected officials and agency staff reflect the important issues of today and will serve to influence the decisions of tomorrow.
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