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Government by its very nature is an information-intensive service provider. Good information management practices can enhance government productivity and service quality, and decrease the cost of administration. Information is increasingly recognized as an important primary resource - along with finance, personnel and assets - that needs to be effectively managed. Hence, awareness of the need for good practices in the management of information is rising.
The other primary resources, i.e. finance, personnel and assets, usually have a recognizable functional identity within an institution. If you have questions regarding the management of finance or personnel or assets, you can usually find someone - or some group - in the institution to deal with. In contrast, the management of information is much more multidisciplinary. Information-based functions within institutions include obvious groups such as records management, data management and library services, as well as perhaps less obvious functions such as public opinion research.
The multidisciplinary nature of the management of information leads to some challenging planning and scoping issues, which are elaborated on later in the Guide. For purposes of the Guide, information-based functions will be used as a generic term to include the information management disciplines or functions involved. Another perspective on the complex, multidisciplinary nature of the management of information is provided by the variety of laws and policies that affect information. Figure 1 lists many of them. In addition, some institutions have information-related legal and policy requirements that relate to their particular missions. Reviewers should note that some policies and regulations may take precedence over others, and they should look to the particular circumstances of their institution before deciding on the hierarchy of applicable authorities.
Figure 1: Managing Information in Canadian Government Institutions
Legislation and Policy
Access to Information Act and Regulations
Acts specific to each institution
Canada Evidence Act
Emergency Preparedness Act and the Emergencies Act
National Archives of Canada Act
National Library Act
Official Languages Act
Privacy Act and Regulations
Treasury Board Policy
Information Management volume of the Treasury Board Manual:
Government Security policy
Government Communications policy
Access to Information policy
Figure 2 provides a model to assist in the review of the management of information. The model shows the stages information holdings pass through during their life cycle.
Figure 2: Information Life Cycle Model
Each stage of the life cycle can be used as a basis to review an integral part of the management of information holdings (see Chapters 4 through 8). In addition, a review can look at the overall management framework, i.e. the management of the entire life cycle and the context in which it operates (see Chapter 3).
Whether at the corporate or program level, an organization uses the information life cycle as a framework within which to manage its information. Increasingly, organizations are considering their requirements for information along with their requirements for people, accommodation and financial resources.
The planning stage involves assessing how to meet the needs of the institution for operational, legislative and policy purposes. The MGIH policy states that institutions should identify their information needs as early as possible in the project or management cycle. In keeping with that concept, institutions should collect, create or generate only what information they require. They should also make sure the information does not already exist in the institution or that it is readily accessible to the institution. Information should be kept only as long as it is of value. In addition, when planning information systems, or making enhancements to existing information systems, institutions should identify and include all the important parameters related to MGIH.
In the planning stage, institutions should identify their own information needs for each of the stages in the information life cycle. The subsequent collection, creation and/or generation of information should be directly linked to the needs that have been identified. The information holdings that result should be organized, stored and protected. Finally, information of no further use or value to the institution should be disposed of pursuant to provisions of the National Archives of Canada Act and the National Library Act.
As stated above, planning should determine what information should be collected, created or received, based on operational needs and legislative or policy requirements. This suggests that generating or gathering of information should be articulated in terms of the nature of information needed (what), its operational, legislative or policy purpose (why), which persons or groups of the institution will have custody and use of the information (who), the frequency of need (when), and whether it is to be generated internally or gathered from other sources (where and how).
Treasury Board's MGIH policy states some additional requirements concerning the collection of information. Government institutions are required to avoid collecting information that is already available, minimize the response burden and costs associated with collection, and collect personal information in accordance with the Privacy Act. In addition, in the case of public opinion research, institutions must seek approval of the Cabinet Committee on Operations through the Public Opinion Research Group of Government Services Canada.
In order to maximize the value of information holdings, they should relate to the needs of the institution. Consequently, institutions should identify and describe their information holdings to meet their operational requirements (decision making and program delivery) and to meet legislative or policy requirements. Description provides context and meaning. Information holdings also should be organized or arranged in a logical manner that facilitates access by users. In this regard, access includes transmission, use and retrieval.
In the transmission, use and retrieval of information, users should respect the applicable legal and policy constraints, including the access to information and privacy legislation, and the Government Security policy. In addition, the MGIH policy requires that information holdings of government institutions be identified in appropriate government public reference sources and that information holdings be available to the public and for use within the government - subject to legal and policy constraints.
In addition, institutions must recognize the importance of having qualified people and the right equipment to facilitate the transmission, use and retrieval of information. These two factors - the human and physical resources - can greatly affect the value of information holdings, particularly in rendering information available to users.
Information of continuing relevance to the business of the institution should be stored in media appropriate to the characteristics of the information. That is, the media chosen (paper, books, microfilm, computer diskettes, magnetic computer tape, etc.) should be selected to facilitate user accountability, the length of time required to satisfy business needs, and archival or historical requirements. To preserve the corporate memory, information holdings need to be protected against unauthorized loss, access, use, alteration, destruction or alienation (i.e., transfer outside the control of the government).
Institutions keep information holdings as long as they are useful for decision making, program operations and service delivery. As well, the requirement under MGIH to retain information holdings that serve to reconstruct the evolution of policy and program decisions should guide institutions in this matter.
The corporate memory of the Government of Canada includes all government information holdings which are created, collected or received by government institutions to meet their operational needs and the requirements of legislation and policy. These information holdings should be disposed of through destruction or by transfer to the control of the National Archives or National Library when institutions have no further operational need or legislative or policy requirement for keeping the information holdings, and when authority for disposal has been granted by the National Archives or the National Library.
Six attributes relating to the quality of information which are useful as a basis to review and assess the management of information within institutions are listed in Figure 3. While these attributes are presented as separate items for descriptive and analytic purposes, they are interrelated.
Figure 3: Key Attributes of Information
Throughout their life cycle, information holdings should be available to those who require them. This means that information - regardless of the medium used - must be accessible to users, for retrieval and use when they need it. In short, information must be accessible on a timely basis. Where information technology is used for storage or transmission, the technology should be available to users in order to facilitate retrieval and use of information.
To be of any use, information holdings need to be understandable. This means that identification and description of information holdings must be meaningful to users. For example, technical information described in abbreviated terms understood by technical experts may not be understood by other users.
Information needs to be useable by those who require it. This means that the information must relate to the purposes for which it was created, collected or received. In other words, the content must be applicable or relevant to users. In addition, the information must be in a form that can be used by the persons who need to use it. Both the content and form of information should provide for efficient and effective use of information holdings.
Users may need a variety of information in support of decision making or program delivery. Information holdings should be able to meet the needs of every program within the institution.
Information needs to be correct. The accuracy of information can affect decision making and program delivery.
Another attribute of the quality of information is whether or not it is
up-to-date. Information holdings need to contain the most current information
relevant to user needs. A lack of up-to-date information can impair decision
making and program delivery. Anyone planning to collect or create information
should take into consideration the requirements for keeping the information