Is digital “chicken scratch” part of a material record subject to Freedom of Information Act?

By Poul Hebsgaard posted 06-19-2011 13:52


What happens when we eliminate paper to transfer information from one out-basket to the next in-basket for white collar work in government and private enterprises?

We have for centuries used paper to transfer information between people involved in information workflow whose aim is to produce a response to a question, formulate a position on an issue or develop a policy for a new category of challenges on behalf of a public or private administration.

Yes, we have used email now for some 20+ years and even with SharePoint solutions most often for the final review meeting paper is used as the information medium. Management have reviewed the paper documents prior to presenting the final answer with stick-on notes (yes, 3M is still doing a great business with their Post-it® notes) and “chicken scratch” comments written onto the paper documents being presented.

Post-it® notes probably gets tossed because the comments here get incorporated into the final revision of the documents but “chicken scratch” stays and becomes part of the audit trail and archived as a record subject to a “Freedom of Information Act” that most democratic countries have in place, including of course the USA.

So how does that translate into the all digital world where paper is no longer used to transfer and convey information?

I and my colleagues have been in the midst of that debate and there are few simple answers.

Here is the background:

The Danish Ministry of Climate and Energy and the Ministry of Transport were awarded the Digitalization Award 2011 for their implementation of a new case management system called cBrain F2.

The solution facilitates the elimination of paper-based work and provides collaboration and records management and at the same time incorporates social media tools (presented as chat, stick-on notes, etc.) in the context of the execution of governmental case management processes. The key term here is context!

Now all personnel groups work digitally, from the youngest employee to the head of the department as well as the minister.

The solution has chat functionality tightly integrated with the processes. If you have access to the case information and are part of the team working the case you have access to the chat functionality and can apply a stick-on note (usually managers) with information to be incorporated into the final answer.

Chat is the informal quick back-and-forth exchange of ideas/questions that is not archived as records whereas stick-on notes are formal comments that are archived as records subject to the Freedom of Information act.

It is going to be interesting to see how these issues will play out in the future as we slowly move towards the elimination of paper as a means to transfer information.

All information can still be archived for business purpose. If a similar case comes around you can go back to see how the information exchanges evolved and what were considered in the informal exchanges. BUT that is for internal review only!

I wonder how records managers in general will look at this?

Will different rules evolve for government and private enterprises and probably vary dependent on business segment?

#ERM #socialmedia #casemanagement #ECM #ElectronicRecordsManagement