How it used to be done…

Information is an asset; it doesn’t depreciate or need to be replaced but once a piece of information is entered into a system somewhere in the council we have taken responsibility for it.

All this information then needs to be stored somewhere and because memory is so cheap most local authorities, much like google, are able to just keep adding storage capacity as quickly as council staff and filling it up. This is the right thing to do from one point of view; the council of the future will hopefully be basically paperless; therefore all information needs to be stored electronically. The quantity of this information is thus only going to grow and it makes sense to provide as much space as possible to reassure managers that they don’t need to store it all on their shelving unit.

However, a lot of the information being stored is basically junk and the world of increasingly unlimited storage is leading staff to stop managing their information properly.

I was trying to think of a useful metaphor to explain what has happened and all I could come up with is the comparison between my Yahoo e-mail account and my work outlook account. In the office we have a size limit on my inbox and I am therefore fairly disciplined about keeping the right e-mails and clearing out the unnecessary or transient. My yahoo account used to have size limits (I’ve had it for years) and I used to manage it a little.

Since Yahoo (other e-mail providers are available) changed about five years ago to let me have as much storage as I want I haven’t cleared it out for years.

My fear is that the council is heading in the same direction. As a test I urge you to open up your local shared network drive (a topic we have discussed previously) or document management system and run it in date order. How much information is on there from previous years? How much is still needed? How many of the folders on there are from people who have left? How much really important data or information is buried in there in folders that will probably never see the light of day again?

Instead of encouraging staff to take ownership of all the data and information they own; our actions are leading managers to store anything and everything and then if they don’t use it encouraging them not to worry about it.

There are of course multiple different types of information and some information does need to be kept for years and years.

However, if we’re not actively managing all the information we hold how can we possibly make sure that we have kept all the essential stuff and not kept the information we don’t need or actually shouldn’t have at all.

There are some local authorities who do this very well indeed and others where managers are really hot on ensuring that the data they hold is properly looked after. However, as a rule I don’t believe local authority managers take the management of the data and information generated by their services seriously enough. Maybe right now it doesn’t matter but I am certain the time will come where not managing all this data will be a real problem.

We need to cut the clutter and take the online storage as seriously as we do all those endless rows of filing cabinets!

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5 Comments on “Cluttered”

  1. Mark Griffin Says:

    Possibly a grading system for all the information stored? I use the ‘TrafficMaster’ system (bear with me!) On TrafficMaster you have a series of 3 ‘!’ marks for road delays ahead. A single ‘!’ mark is, ‘you’ll survive, half hour an delay. A double ‘!!’ is, ‘Not for the faint hearted, abandon car if your blood pressure starts to rise and a triple, ‘!!!’ is, ‘start questioning your very existence, hop out of the car and head for the closest field and just keep running’
    With information storage I react in a similar way and need to place a ‘personal’ and ‘commercial’ value on each piece that I keep. Perhaps a series of information ‘value’ standards identifying the key reasons for keeping the knowledge within the organisation (e.g. legal, governance, share with external partners, future value for training use etc etc) Mark

  2. Jeremiah Says:

    You say “it doesn’t depreciate or need to be replaced” but actually it does. Knowing the population of my area in 1971 was really important in 1971, maybe still useful in 1981, but irrelevant for almost all purposes by 2011. Most information depreciates much faster than that.

    I don’t agree, either that technology is “leading staff to stop managing their information properly”. I don’t think most people ever have managed their information properly – you and I excepted of course. So the size limit on our work email accounts has recently been lifted, I guess because so many people kept running out of space at crucial moments and hassling IT support to bail them out. Instead, everything now gets automatically archived after a set time, and there’s no need to be disciplined (so I’m not).

    Where I think the problem will come is in our inability to find and use the information we keep. At the most basic level, we’re legally required to find it in response to a relevant Freedom of Information request. Perhaps more seriously, if we make a bad decision because we didn’t use relevant information that other people know we have, we may be seriously embarrassed.

    To go back to where you started – I do agree that by keeping information we take responsibility. We mostly aren’t recognising the responsibility, and sooner or later that will come back to bite us.

  3. Andrew H Says:

    Absolutly agree. With physical papers I tend to have a clearout every year – if I havn’t looked at in the the last 12 months it probably isn’t important and goes in the bin. Same (but more frequently) with emails and files on my PC.

    But not all are as analy retentive as I. One collegue is leaving soon and cleaing stuff out. They passed me two things they said may be worth holding on to – in both cases a council policy over 10 years old. I thanked them kindly – and found a bin for the papers when they wen’t looking.

    A couple of years ago we set up a proper intranet. My team now has data on various local authorities stored on this so anyone can see this and I check from time to time that stuff is relevent. But other teams still have box files hidden somewhere that no one checks or looks at – and they don’t seem to see the problem. Perhaps I should get out more …..

  4. A clean desk is a sign of a cluttered desk drawer. 😉

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