Who should determine the retention schedule for a document management initiative?
Document retention policies are best developed by people with the best knowledge of the documents in question and the rules governing their protection and disposition. Those rules might be laws, industry standards or requirements imposed by an organization itself, and they need to be identified and applied to every kind of document that a business has in its systems. This means that, when you come right down to it, there really isn’t just a single retention schedule to be created, and there probably shouldn’t be just one person who decides what the different schedules should be.
I recommend that you convene a steering committee to handle the task -- meeting not just once but on a periodic basis to ensure that your retention policies properly reflect any changes in the business or governance environment. The committee should include representatives from a number of organizational functions, especially people drawn from senior management, line-of-business management, IT, the legal department, users who have the greatest need for document access and, of course, records management.
The reason to have such a breadth of perspectives is that there likely are different information strategy, compliance and operations issues to consider for each document type. It is also important to have different parts of the business represented because organizational change issues will inevitably crop up as you seek to ensure conformity on document retention. The good news is that there are plenty of examples to draw from across all industries, so you need not create your particular retention schedules from whole cloth. But you do need to adapt the examples to your own situation, and that will be enough to keep a committee busy for some time.
This was first published in June 2012