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!
Welovelocalgovernment is a blog written by UK local government officers. If you have a piece you’d like to submit or any comments you’d like to make please drop us a line at: email@example.com