Record keeping systems

There are various manual (filing cabinets) and electronic (computer-aided) ways to record, store and retrieve information. Each association should work out and decide on a record-keeping system that suits its particular needs, circumstances and resources (availability of space or computers). The preferred system should be functional, accurate, reliable and user-friendly.

Record-keeping systems need to consider the:

  • nature of information to be stored and retrieved;
  • security and access of files and information (particularly computer records);
  • validity and reliability of the information collected and the system on which it is recorded;
  • resources and training required; and
  • length of time that the records should be kept (general legal requirement is seven years).

Electronic records

An electronic record is any information entered onto a computer system and used, stored and accessed via that system. Electronic records include document files, databases, spreadsheets, electronic mail and internet documents.

Electronic records need to be given special consideration.

For example without an appropriate security system an original document such as meeting minutes may be amended without authority and/or being readily detected.

Electronic records need to be kept securely and at the same time, be easily accessible for retrieval.

Tracking documents

Associations may consider developing a simple policy that prescribes how documents are to be identified. It is very easy for there to be suddenly two or more versions of a document and no one is sure which is the most accurate!.

For example:

The Harmony Community Development Association’s policies state that all official documents, minutes, reports, records, forms and orientation documents must:

  • be clearly titled;
  • show authorisation;
  • show date of authorisation;
  • show date of review;
  • title original copies as 'Original Copy'; and
  • title any non-original document as 'Copy'.

A register of all official copies will be kept for reference purposes.

Bring-up systems

A bring-up system is any systematic method used to regularly check open files and review policy or management decisions. The system can be manual or computer based.

Many associations use bring-up systems to help ensure that policies, decisions and other important matters are kept highlighted and reviewed regularly. This system is a useful quality assurance and risk management tool.

For example:

The management committee of an association gives a review date for all policies developed. The date of review is entered into a register maintained by the secretary for each meeting. A policy 'coming-up' on the register as scheduled for review is then put on the next meeting agenda.

A computer bring-up system is used as the quality assurance mechanism for service delivery by community staff. Actions taken on a file are recorded and a bring-up date allocated before being given to administration staff for recording and filing. Each morning a staff member opens the bring-up list for the day, retrieves the files and places them on the desk of the employee who is working on the file. This reminds the employee that they had requested the file to be 'brought to the top of the pile' for follow up. It may be that a court date is getting near, or the employee wrote a letter four weeks ago and wanted to check if a response had been received.

Storage management

The way in which records are stored will depend on:

  • the purpose of the records;
  • the type of records;
  • how long records must be kept; and
  • access needs.

Records may be stored on-site at the association’s place of business. If there is insufficient and appropriate space, records can be stored off-site by storage companies. It is essential documents are stored in safe, secure and appropriate facilities. There are a number of factors to consider when deciding on a storage facility. Storage facilities should:

  • be conveniently located to the user;
  • comply with occupational health and safety standards;
  • comply with building standards;
  • have secure and controlled access;
  • be appropriate for the kinds of documents to be stored;
  • facilitate easy access and retrieval;
  • have containers that are suitable, durable and appropriate for the kinds of documents; and
  • protect documents from disasters such as fire and deterioration from direct sunlight.

Destroying and archiving records

Some records may be destroyed after their legal retention period has expired (in most cases this period is seven years).

Records should not be destroyed unless the association is absolutely certain that this can be done both safely and legally. An association should have a policy on storing and destroying records. No record should be destroyed without the appropriate authorisation.

If the records of your association have not been destroyed, you may wish to consider passing them to the Battye LibraryThe Library maintains an extensive archive of the social history of Western Australia and its people and has expressed an interest in the records of defunct associations.

Records that must be kept permanently should be archived and not destroyed. Records that have permanent value are historical documents, minutes of meetings and legal documents. Archived records can be stored on-site or at an off-site storage facility.