Search

File Plan Creation

Information and Privacy Office


This guideline provides advice for creating a file plan. Contact the Information and Privacy Officer for assistance.

Introduction
Creating the File Plan
Concerns for Implementation

Concerns for Maintenance and Consistency


Introduction

What is a File Plan and Why Create One?

A file plan, also known as a record plan, a records classification system, or a file index, is a tool for organizing records.

File plans make records easy to store, retrieve and dispose. They can be used to manage both paper and electronic records, whether stored in filing cabinets or on personal or shared network drives. A file plan can also be used to manage email.

File plans have a number of benefits:

  • Records are organized consistently over time, in a location that is easy to find.
  • Related records are stored together, making it easy to browse or search for information.
  • Retention and disposition schedules are easy to apply, making it simple to get rid of records when they are no longer needed.
  • All employees gain a broader understanding of how records are used to support and document the work of their office.

Characteristics of a Good File Plan

A good file plan is:

  • Accurate - Records are created to support and document specific work processes, so the file plan should structured to accurately reflect this work.
  • Simple - File plans should be uncomplicated and use recognizable language.
  • Stable - Because the work performed by an office changes over time, the file plan should be stable enough to manage change without major revision.

Function-based File Plans

There are a number of ways to organize records - by subject, topic, position or function. Of these approaches, classifying records by function provides the best method for organizing business records. Function-based classification is a component of the international standard on records management, ISO 15489, and also forms the basis for most records classification systems in other Canadian universities.

Function-based file plans organize records based directly on the work processes that an office performs to fulfill its mandate and goals - its functions. Instead of organizing records by what they are about (subject or topic-based file plans), or who created them (position-based file plans), function-based file plans answer the fundamental question of why records are created and used, by classifying them based on work processes. Function-based file plans are also stable and long-lasting. Subjects and positions change frequently, but what an office does – its functions – generally stays the same over time.

Under each function, records are then organized by activity - a major action, or task, undertaken to complete a given function. Most functions have multiple activities, which can be applicable to a single function or to several functions. If desired, activities can be broken down into sub-activities, or transactions. Under each activity (or sub-activity), records series are organized. A record series is a grouping of records managed together to support and provide evidence of an activity. At this lower level, it's permissible to arrange records series by subject or case. Finally, individual records (files, documents, etc.) are organized within each records series. The number of functions, activities and records series that may be included on a file plan is different for every office.

This image illustrates the hierarchical relationship between functions, activities, records series and records:


Creating the File Plan

Step 1: Plan the Project

Before creating a file plan, consider the people and resources that will be required:

  • Who will be responsible for supporting the project?
  • Who will be responsible for leading the project?
  • Who will be responsible for maintaining and updating the file plan?
  • What information and resources will be required?

Depending on the size of the project, different resources and levels of support may be required.

Step 2: Gather Information

Begin by gathering together information about the office and the records it manages. The goal is to identify the type of work that the office performs, as well as the records that are created and used to support these work processes. Information may include:

  • Existing file plans
  • Existing file directories, from shared network drives, email accounts or similar locations
  • Policies and procedures
  • Organizational charts
  • Annual reports and similar documents that describe the most important work undertaken by the office
  • Retention and disposition schedules
  • Descriptions of the office's mandate, services, and responsibilities
  • Websites
  • Strategic plans
Review this information to gain a general understanding of the most important work and largest tasks performed by the office. Also get a sense of the most common types of records that are created and used to support this work.

Step 3: Identify and Document Functions

Functions are the largest and most essential work processes performed by an office. There are two types of functions - operational and administrative. All offices perform a mixture of operational and administrative functions.

Operational functions support the mission and mandate of the office. They are often specific to a given office.

For example, a public health office might have operational functions including:

  • Disease monitoring
  • Public health promotion
  • Outbreak response

While a human resources office might have operational functions including:

  • Position development
  • Recruitment and hiring
  • Employee relations

Administrative functions can be understood as "housekeeping" tasks. They must be performed, but are not usually done in direct support of the office's mission and mandate.

For example, most offices perform:

  • Strategic planning
  • Personnel management
  • Financial management

Based on the information gathered in Step 2, identify the office's operational and administrative functions. Provide each with a title that is straightforward and familiar. It may be helpful to bring together a number of office staff to collaboratively title the functions. If there are functions that overlap, create a description note for each to ensure staff are able to intuitively and consistently classify, file and retrieve records. Avoid using abbreviations, names of individuals or ambiguous words such as general, miscellaneous, various or other. Document the titles and notes in a chart, spreadsheet or Word file that is accessible to all office staff.

Step 4: Identify and Document Activities

Activities are the major actions undertaken to complete a function, and can be applicable to a single function or to multiple functions. Several activities are usually associated with a function, though the number of activities will differ for each one.

For example, the public health promotion function may have activities including:

  • Training
  • Reporting
  • Publishing

While the personnel management function may have activities including:

  • Vacation management
  • Performance review
  • Professional development

And the financial management function may have activities including:

  • Budgeting
  • Reporting
  • Purchasing

Again, based on the information gathered in Step 2, for each function identify the office's activities and provide each with a title that is straightforward and familiar. It may be helpful to bring together a number of office staff to collaboratively title the activities. If there are activities that overlap, create a description note for each to ensure staff are able to intuitively and consistently classify, file and retrieve records. Avoid using abbreviations, names of individuals or ambiguous words such as general, miscellaneous, various or other. Document the titles and notes in a chart, spreadsheet, or Word file that is accessible to all office staff.

Classify Records Series

For each activity, classify the main records series (groupings of records) that are created to support and document the activity. There may be only a single records series associated with an activity, or there may be multiple records series. Again, give each records series a title that is straightforward and familiar. For common records series, it may be helpful to classify records by year.

For example, the vacation management activity may have records series including:

  • Vacation requests 2015
  • Reports

While the professional development activity may have records series including:

  • Conferences
  • Workshops

And the training activity may have records series including:

  • Presentations

Store Records

Finally, within each records series, individuals records (files, documents, etc.) may be classified and stored.


Concerns for Implementation

To ensure all records are captured in the file plan, offices may wish to inventory their records. The goal is not to list every single document in the office, but rather identify important records series that need to be included and managed in the file plan.

Offices may also wish to create a file number or code to represent each unique function and activity in the file plan. These are used to help arrange records in cabinets and on network drives and to act as surrogates for lengthy file titles. Codes can be numeric or alphanumeric but should be as simple and short as possible.

All function and activity titles, notes, and codes should be saved in a format and location that will be accessible to all office staff, such as a spreadsheet or Word file on the shared network drive.


Concerns for Maintenance and Consistency

Offices should designate a competent individual to oversee the maintenance of the file plan over time.

The top two levels of the file plan (function and activity) should not be modified, deleted or otherwise removed except by the individual responsbile for overseeing the file plan. This is to discourage the creation of new function and activity categories which may create issues when filing and locating records. Likewise, only the designated individual should create new function and activity categories.

Additional rules and guidelines may be created to assist the use of the file plan, for example:

  • When to file records
  • Where to file transitory and reference records
  • Filing responsibilities for records with multiple creators