Many public offices do not have the budget or bandwidth to waste a second on wild goose chases for misplaced documents or manually sorting and filing public records. You may not have a choice, though, so you look for the most budget-friendly and effective public records management options. Some of which you and your colleagues can take care of yourselves; while some requires a little outside help.
If you haven’t already started by digitizing your existing documents, that is Step Zero. Even an office with a tight budget has a scanner. You can start by setting up a schedule to scan records into your office’s server. Just getting your files into the system will be a major relief and make your job easier.
What about steps one through five? We have some tips for your public records spring cleaning…even if it is summer. Take a look at our guide for getting your ducks in a row. Local citizens are counting on you to get it right.
Store in a more organized, searchable structure
Once you have scanned all paper files into a digital format, and stored them somewhere central to everyone in the office who needs access, you can fix up your filing structure. What we sometimes call a folder hierarchy. File by department and try to mimic the way your own departments organize their public records. That might be by case file number, district, county, or simply by date.
Secure and organize public records
You do not have to rely solely on the file explorer that comes standard on every PC. You could instead search for a records management software that make everything a lot easier. Contentverse has simple controls for scanning in, filing, and managing your public records. It includes options sending records between departments so that your office can approve public access requests or securely share files with citizens and with offices in other municipalities.
Public servants handling records
In order to keep your constituents’ court documents, arrest reports, birth certificates, or other sensitive records safe, every office follows a strict electronic access policy. These may be public records, but FOIA procedures aren’t the wild west. Citizens still need to go through the proper channels, even for a court case search. To mitigate mishandling of records, or misplacing them on return, you can keep procedures updated by setting access permissions in an electronic records management tool. Permissions can be granted to clerks who work with these records daily but restricted from users who do not need to see these documents.
With indexing, it is easy to find a record quickly and then get it to the requesting party as soon as their request has been approved. There are a few ways to share the public record with them. The first involves sending a secure, time sensitive link to the files. The link can be set to expire after a certain amount of time, and the files never leave your system. The second is to use a custom public portal – a web page for public users to access documents once they have completed the request process.
Meeting regulatory compliance for public records
In addition to access for citizens, you want to make your files readily available for regulators. Oversight committees, inspections, and regular audits. It wouldn’t do to spend weeks getting those documents together when they’re needed tomorrow! If you tag everything in your server with helpful information about what’s in the file, when it was created, and who created it, you will have an easier time, say, pulling records created by your clerks in the past six months. You can search for the records and even create a reference between all of them so that you know they’re part of a related audit.
Speaking of which, audit trail tracks who opened, viewed, edited, and otherwise altered every document in your organization. Some compliance requires you to create a report among the different departments and then have a city manager or councilperson review it before it is sent off. Some rules ask clerical workers in a town hall or city hall to fill out annual forms. A records management software can speed up these long, tedious processes for you. Then, everything you need is in one, secure space.
The full circle of public records management
It doesn’t have to be spring to tidy up your filing cabinets – or trade them in for electronic storage. Whether you are managing public records at the department of public health, filing funding information and budgetary documents at a library, or keeping student records secure at a public school, everyone in the public sector can benefit from some document management.
About the Author:
Daniel Cochran has been the Marketing Manager for Computhink for almost a decade. He relishes in opportunities to learn more about document management, records management, and business processes.