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Developing Records Retention and Disposition Schedules

Overview of Records Schedules

A records retention and disposition schedule (or just “records schedule”) is a procedural control document that shows the:

  • typical records of an office;
  • their life expectancy;
  • classification; and
  • the agreed action when records outlive their operational usefulness.

Records schedules are key components of a comprehensive records management program that support the administration and operation of the University by helping to:

  • limit unnecessary records accumulation;
  • assist in identifying and retrieving needed information;
  • support cost-effective use of office space and storage facilities;
  • guard against premature destruction;
  • assist with legislative compliance; and
  • assist in identifying and preserving records of historical value.

Records schedules apply to all records, regardless of format, in all locations. In general, records schedules relieve managers of the burden to decide how long to keep records and what to do when they are no longer operationally useful. 

In order to develop records retention and disposition schedules, one typically undertakes some or all of the following steps:

  • Review the functions and recordkeeping requirements for the department whose records will be included on the schedule; 
  • Inventory the records; 
  • Determine the period of time the records are needed for conducting departmental operations and meeting legal obligations; and 
  • Draft retention and disposition instructions including:
    • File cutoffs or file breaks (convenient points within a filing system at which files are separated for purposes of storage and/or disposition); 
    • Instructions for transferring permanent records to the University Records Center & Archives;
    • Instructions for sending inactive records to the University Records Center & Archives;
    • Organize the schedule and clear it internally; and 
    • Obtain approval from the University Library.

 This guide explains how to to achieve those steps.

There are three basic ways to classify records: by subject, department, or by function. 

Subject Classification arranges records by subject, personal names, or alphabetically. This system requires you to remember what terms you used to label them; it also requires you to disperse records relating to a single activity throughout your folders.

Departmental Classification arranges records based on the business unit that manages them. This system seems logical but it suffers when the organizational structure changes, as may often happen in universities.

By contrast, KAUST uses a Functional Classification system. This system arranges records based on the functions of the department and the activities that are required to carry out those functions. Categories based on the functions are better suited to endure organization changes, make it easier to follow retention schedules since records relating to similar functions have the same retention length, and can be quickly grouped together for destruction or archival transfer.

To create a functional classification scheme, the key functions of a department are identified and analyzed. During analysis, functions are broken down into sub-functions and activities. Generally, the activity level is where you see the creation of records. And it is at the activity level that record series can be identified, classified and scheduled for retention according to use, legislation or regulatory requirements and historical relevance. 

Many records are generated and received in the course of business and each type of record has management and retention requirements attached to it based on its function. It is important to know that each record will need to be managed based on its content (i.e., its function and purpose) rather than its form.

KAUST's Data Classification Procedure outlines three security classification levels during the maintenance, storage, and disposition of records and data records. As such, it is vital to analyze the levels of confidentiality when inventorying records and developing records schedules. KAUST's three part classification levels includes (1) Public, (2) Internal and (3) Confidential. The Procedure defines "confidential" as private, proprietary or otherwise sensitive records and data records that must be secured at all times, including disposition. Refer to Section 2(a) in the Data Classification Procedure for further details.

Note further that KAUST's University Records Policy mandates that all offices manage their records effectively and efficiently, including their retention, disposition and classification.

One challenge classifying security levels is with mixed records within a physical or a computer folder. This can happen when multiple records series, each with different levels of confidentiality, get filed in the same folder. Unless you separate the files based on their levels of confidentiality the simplest thing is to apply the highest level of confidentiality for any file to the entire folder. 

Frequent examples of this can occur when

  • Annual files are not cut off cleanly at the end of the year;
  • Multiple records series are grouped in a single file;
  • Active and inactive records are not clear;
  • Retention triggers are not being tracked;
  • Uncertainty which records series applies;

If faced with such issues please contact the University Archivist to discuss.

The basic principles of developing records schedules at KAUST are:

  • All University operational records must be scheduled;
  • Records scheduling at KAUST must comply with and support the administration of applicable laws, fiscal, policy and other business requirements;
  • Records scheduling should be approached in a comprehensive manner, scheduling all records, regardless of physical form or characteristics, held by a program or service at the same time rather than on an individual records series basis;
  • Records schedules should be revisited when plans are being made to introduce major changes to the program or service, significant business or legal changes, new information technologies, electronic information management applications, or electronic service delivery;
  • Records scheduling should provide consistent retention periods for records with similar values, not only within your department but also across the University;
  • Records scheduling at KAUST must ensure that university records of enduring historical value are preserved;
  • Records scheduling must assign retention periods based on a formal analysis of records values and consultation with the University Library, as well as staff from relevant departments such as  legal, audit, senior management, etc.;
  • Records scheduling must minimize the length of time records are to be kept, subject to the records values identified, in order to reduce storage costs;
  • Records scheduling must maximize efficiency in terms of on-site and off-site storage and support the University Records Center operations (for physical records) or IT data storage solutions (for electronic records);
  • Records scheduling must maximize efficiency in terms of staff resources while maintaining a controlled process;
  • Records scheduling must be documented in a manner that will be clear to future users as the schedule is implemented and amended over time; and
  • Records schedules are living documents, which require continuous review and amendment as organizations evolve.

Every employee that creates or has access to University records has an important role to play in protecting the University by creating, using appropriately, retrieving and disposing of records in accordance with University policy. Each employee should be familiar with the University Records Policy and know how to access the records retention schedule.
 
That said, Senior Program Managers are further responsible for scheduling the records of their program or service. Senior Program Managers may choose to assign a knowledgeable and qualified person to conduct the scheduling project for their program/service. The Senior Program Manager might also choose to hire a records management consultant or use a member of his/her own staff who has completed the training sessions offered by the University Library. The Senior Program Manager should work in conjunction with the University Archivist and Records Manager and inform him or her of the start and completion of the project. The University Archivist and Records Manager needs to know which programs/services are conducting scheduling projects in order to ensure that resources, if required, are available. As well, there must be some central coordination by the University Archivist and Records Manager in order to maintain standards, consistency and overall accountability. Ultimately, it will be the University Archivist and Records Manager who finalizes the schedules and submits them to the Policy Office.
 
It goes without saying that all offices need to partner with IT on whose data storage infrastructure we all rely upon to manage our electronic records. However, it is the responsibility of the departments, particularly when developing their records schedules, to guide IT on the retention and archiving needs for the records based on legal, fiscal or business requirements.

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