Record keeping is an essential service provided by many public sector entities.
By law many of these records have to be made available to the public. Responding to these requests can be costly, both financially and in the thousands of hours of work time necessary to locate, copy and provide specific documents to anyone who asks for them.
The state of Washington, for example, spends more than $60 million every year to handle more than 110,000 records requests.
Make Records a Part of Your Municipal Website Redesign
If you are planning a website project, this is the time to consider new technology that will make records more accessible, while lowering the cost of retrieving them.
One solution might be to add a centralized portal to your website that can process records requests from any department. This can be provided as a software-as-a-service solution. The portal makes it easier for citizens to file a query, and for municipal staff to quickly locate documents when they have all been scanned and uploaded to the same system. Such external solutions may require a substantial investment, but some are available as a subscription based on the number of users, which could mitigate the cost for smaller municipalities.
Another solution is to compile any documents already released into an open data portal, so visitors can simply access them directly without filing a records request. There are privacy considerations that will need to be addressed, but there are also strategies to allow access while protecting the privacy of this information. Usually the process is one that mirrors how documents are provided in person.
Should You Charge a Fee for Public Sector Records?
There is one other way to make records requests more affordable – charge a fee for the service. Doing so is legal, and will likely reduce the number of requests while helping to offset the cost of searching and processing.
Whatever option you select, making the process of handling records requests more efficient will be time and money well-spent – especially as experts predict the number of requests is only going to increase in years to come.