Background research


Knowledge of the public sector organisation, its administrative and legislative context, and its functions and activities needs to be linked to a detailed analysis of its business processes and the records these processes create.

The analysis of records and business processes gives an understanding of how records are created in practice and how they support business processes.

Information collected from consultation and research is captured in the mandatory documentation required for the approval of a disposal schedule.

Sources for research

A number of written sources are useful in the research supporting the project. Some of these are identified below.

Administrative arrangements order

  • sets out the principal responsibilities of ministers and the acts that they administer.

Annual reports

  • identify business activities of the organisation
  • may identify various business systems that contain records, for example, by reporting on the implementation of new systems to manage business processes
  • identify relevant legislation
  • past annual reports are useful for historical analysis supporting the appraisal of legacy records.

Authorised or draft disposal schedules of the organisation

  • identify previous retention periods and classes of records created
  • record class description forms may contain valuable research information
  • may still have valid disposal actions and can be included in the proposed new schedule with updated information
  • identify records holdings, including legacy records.

Corporate internet/intranet sites

  • identify activities and processes
  • may identify business systems that contain records.

Corporate plans and strategies

  • identify functions of the organisation.

Information audits

  • if available, can be used to identify all formats used to create and retain information of the organisation.

Interviews and consultation

  • interviews, workshops or focus groups with relevant staff are an essential means of gathering information and obtaining confirmation on other research. They can also be used to promote good record keeping and gaining support for the project.

Legacy records

Most public sector organisations have collections of older records that have not previously been appraised. Sometimes these records have been inherited from predecessor organisations  or document functions and activities which may no longer be performed by the public sector organisation.

Public sector organisations are required to document any records created prior to 1 July 1978 that are in their custody and contact the NT Archives Service to have them appraised for permanent retention.

For further information regarding records created prior to 1 July 1978 please refer to Disposal of Government Records Created Prior to 1 July 1978 found at NT Archives Service.


Researching and documenting relevant legislation is an essential part of developing a functional records disposal schedule. Legislation:

  • sets out the role and powers of the public sector organisation
  • may contain requirements to create records (either implicitly or explicitly). For example it may set out processes that must be followed, with implicit requirements to create records, for example 'applications must be assessed' implies that assessment documents will be created
  • may contain explicit information on how long records must be kept
  • may contain implicit information to help identify retention periods, for example length of appeal period.

It is strongly recommended that public sector organisations developing disposal schedules map their legislative requirements. This assists in identifying all explicit and implicit recordkeeping requirements prescribed in legislation and ensures they are covered in the schedule.

Legislative mapping involves the listing of provisions under the relevant legislation, noting any record implications (such as the creation of records or their retention) and where appropriate, noting the reference number where these records are covered in the draft disposal schedule.

Public sector organisations should also check all acts and subordinate legislation (regulations) that they administer as well as any regulatory legislation to which they are subject (although it may not be necessary to map those sections that do not apply to the public sector organisation). It is also important to identify any repealed legislation that affected past activities and therefore legacy records.
Business areas that administer the legislation must be consulted.

Ministerial portfolio statements

  • useful for core government agencies
  • include information on outputs, key strategies and achievements for each agency within a portfolio
  • may include information on legislation and relationships with other public sector organisations.

Organisational charts

  • identify key parts of the organisation and provides overview of work
  • can be used as 'checklist' to identify areas for research and consultation.

Policy and procedure documents for business areas

  • identify activities and processes
  • identify requirements to create records, explicitly or implicitly
  • may identify business systems that contain records.

Standards and general orders

  • identify activities and processes for compliance requirements.

Investigating context

Investigating the context of the public sector organisation is a key step. It helps develop an understanding of the administrative, legal, business and social contexts in which it operates. It can also identify the major factors that influence its need to create and maintain records. The contextual information is very important in clarifying the scope of the draft disposal schedule.

Identifying and describing functions and activities

Functions are the largest unit of business activity in a public sector organisation. Activities are the major processes performed by the organisation to accomplish each of its functions. An activity should be based on a cohesive grouping of transactions producing a singular outcome. Transactions are the individual steps or actions involved in an activity or process - for example, in an authorisation process, transactions may include:

  • receive application
  • assess application against criteria
  • approve or reject
  • enter decision on system
  • prepare response
  • issue authorisation if approved.

Examining the transaction levels helps to ensure that there is no overlap between activities and identifies the type of records created.

Functions and activities provide the structure for a disposal schedule. Most public sector organisations already have a current business classification scheme and can adopt this for use in the disposal schedule.

In identifying functions and activities:

  • consider what makes the public sector organisation unique and include these functions and activities
  • write scope notes for each function and activity that give a succinct explanation of what is, and what is not, covered by the term.

A number of activities, such as policy, advice, meetings and procedures, are common to many functions, whether administrative or unique to a public sector organisation. In analysing the functions specific to the organisation, note which of these common activities occur under the specific functions.

Coverage of these common activities, regardless of the 'parent' function, is included in the general disposal schedules. It is necessary to determine whether the general disposal schedule's coverage is sufficient.

Researching records holdings

In developing a comprehensive functional records disposal schedule, it is important to be aware of all record holdings of the public sector organisation, regardless of age or format. This is usually done via a records survey.

Collect as much information as possible about the records identified, including:

  • quantity
  • date range (this is particularly relevant for legacy records)
  • format/media
  • the relationship between different record keeping systems, both paper and electronic. For example, do clients fill out paper forms that are entered on a database and placed on a file?

Last updated: 07 March 2019

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