Designing a Records Retention Action Plan: 7 Things You Need to Know

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Because of the vital role that records retention scheduling plays in an effective RM program, it is one of the most talked about topics in information management. Unfortunately, it can also be one of the most misunderstood concepts.

Ad hoc decision-making and vague assumptions about retention can threaten an organization’s compliance with legal and business requirements. To avoid this, organizations need to develop and implement a sound records retention action plan.

Here are 7 components of an effective plan:

1. Establish criteria for identifying official records

The criteria should provide concrete, specific guidelines to support daily decision making, but stay flexible enough to provide for the exceptions that happen in an active business environment.

2. Develop a policy authorizing destruction of non-record materials

In order to facilitate regular, timely purging of materials that are no longer useful, non-records shouldn’t require much more than the policy itself to authorize their destruction.

3. Research and tabulate retention requirements from all applicable statutes and regulations

Records retention requirements can be direct—explicit requirements to keep a given record for a specified period of time—or indirect, in the form of legal limitation periods.

4. Investigate operational needs

The creators and users of records should play a role in identifying how long records are needed to inform administrative processes and operational activities, possibly in excess of legally mandated requirements.

5. Apply archival appraisal, selection and sampling techniques

These processes can be integrated into retention schedule development, identifying upfront which categories of records have potential archival value.

6. Establish the retention schedule

Industry-recognized standards in records management recommend that categories be based on the business activities that give rise to their creation or receipt. Those same activities will help identify applicable legal, operational and archival requirements. Retention requirements for each category should be long enough to meet all identified requirements, but not so long as to introduce privacy non-compliance, undue storage costs or other risks.

7. Implement disposal processes

Records should be reviewed regularly against retention schedules to identify their eligibility for destruction. The review should include input from stakeholders who can identify possible legal or operational reasons to retain records in excess of their scheduled retention periods. Those stakeholders should sign-off on actual records destruction, which should be performed in a secure manner and be certified as having been performed in accordance with organizational retention policies.

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