Sentencing of records is an activity that should be part of every NSW public offices' Records Management Program.

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Sentencing should be ongoing and State Records NSW recommends that sentencing should be performed as records are created. However, sometimes records go unsentenced for a period of time and an accumulation of unsentenced records occurs. These guidelines look at preparing a business case or project proposal to tackle large accumulations of unsentenced records.

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Getting Started

The most important part of any project is the planning. Many sentencing projects fall apart due to insufficient planning and often if one project has failed it can prove difficult to secure support and funding for another.

Most projects begin with a business case or proposal. Depending on the project methodology employed by your organisation, this document could go under a variety of names such as project brief, business case or even a memo. It is important to remember that the business case is simply a document that justifies the project and should be the driving force behind the project. Your business case is not your project plan however it will contain information that will form part of the plan.

Before the business case for a sentencing project is designed, there are some questions that should be evaluated:

1 Why does this project need to be done?

Any project undertaken needs to be of benefit to the public office. The project may need to be done for a variety of reasons - large accumulations held in off-site storage that are not sentenced could be a drain on resources to the public office, the office is running out of space, systems are being migrated and it is not cost effective to migrate records that are no longer required for current business, there are issues retrieving files as the public office does not know what records it has etc.

Remember that it may not be realistic to believe that all records can be sentenced within one project. When your public office has a large accumulation of unsentenced records it is far better to concentrate on one area at a time. For example you may choose to concentrate on financial records as the financial records are in dire need of being cleared and cannot be moved until sentenced.

2 Does my organisation have a current functional retention disposal authority? After you have surveyed the records for which the project is to be constructed, it is important that you check you have a current functional retention and disposal authority and/or the correct general retention and disposal authority. Retention and disposal authorities should be regularly reviewed to ensure they are still meeting the needs of the organisation.
3 Do I know where the control records are for the records? This is an important question to consider as control records will need to be annotated throughout your project so that you can document what has happened to the records.
4 Are there procedures and policy already in place within my organisation that govern disposal of records?

Your public office should already have in place a policy and program for records management of which disposal should be included. It is a compliance requirement of the Standard on records management that policy, procedures and business rules direct how appraisal and disposal activities are undertaken in the public office (see minimum compliance requirement 3.6). Check these policies and add them to your business case as supporting documents.

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Preliminary Survey

After these questions have been considered and you are satisfied that a strong business case can be put together, it is beneficial to survey the records in question and perhaps do some research. A preliminary sentencing run on a sample of records will help to ascertain how long the project will take, the experience required of the sentencers, whether you have correct disposal coverage and what resources the project would require. Anything learnt from a preliminary survey can also help to make a stronger business case.

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When beginning to plan the project, there are three important factors that need to be incorporated into the business case and the project plan (which is done after the business case). These factors are - size of the project, resources required, and timing of the project.

Size of project

As has been stated, the size of the project is important and it is highly unlikely that you can sentence everything in one go. If you are dealing with large accumulations of records it is best to tackle several smaller projects than one big one. The size of your project will then reflect what resources you require as well as how long it should take. Be aware that sentencers can suffer from 'burn out'.


Depending on the size of your project, there will be a variety of resources you will require, including extra staff, facilities, equipment and training. It is important that the staff and other resources identified for the project are suitable for the task

Tips for selecting staff for a sentencing project

When selecting staff for a disposal project, you need to be aware of what records you are going to sentence and the level of knowledge required to sentence those records. Before sentencing records you need to know the current and past functions of your public office so that you and other sentencers can tell the difference between functional and general administrative records. If you are working with very old records that your public office may have inherited from an earlier organisation, you should also know the role of these earlier organisations.
You may find the information you need in:

  • current and previous annual reports
  • legislation relating to the public office
  • Series and agency registrations (available on the Service Portal at Museums of History NSW), and
  • official histories

The depth of knowledge required depends on the age and complexity of the records that are to be sentenced. Hired contractors or people who are not very familiar with the public office should have some training at the beginning of the project into the background of the public office. It is also beneficial to have someone on the project team or who can be approached by the project team that is a staff member with long term knowledge of the organisation.

You will also need a project manager with the ability to:

  • assess retention and disposal authorities
  • decide how they can best be implemented, and
  • know the extent and type of records to be dealt with.

The more the project manager understands about the functions of the organisation and how the records were/are kept, the better they will be able to plan the project and assess the quality of the sentencing. If you have a good project manager, your sentencers will learn more and be able to sentence more quickly knowing that they have someone who can be asked a question and receive a reliable answer

Disposal project staff should have some records training. Public offices should only use personnel who have appropriate skills and knowledge to carry out sentencing and disposal activities. 

You will also need to ensure that the facilities you propose to use for the project are suitable. If you are dealing with a large quantity of paper records you will need plenty of room for the sentencing project. You will require:

  • plenty of desk space to spread out records, retention and disposal authorities, control records and paperwork
  • shelving to store records before, during and after sentencing
  • the relevant control records, including access to any computerised control records or indexes
  • the relevant retention and disposal authorities (in paper or electronic versions)
  • computer for access to electronic records or control records and inputting disposal sentencing
  • a telephone to contact action officers and State Records NSW
  • equipment such as trolleys for moving records around, stools, etc
  • stationery supplies and boxes for the sentenced records, and
  • air conditioning, to keep both the records and the sentencers in good condition.

Putting the Plan Together

When working out the structure of your business case, it is important to remember who the proposal is aimed at. Generally approval will be sought from people who may not entirely understand recordkeeping or recordkeeping language. However, they generally understand the overall purposes of the public office they work for. This means that you need to 'sell' your business case in a way that will be understood.

How to 'sell' the business case

Different public offices fulfill different functions, and these functions can impact on the reason why a project needs to be done. All public offices have tight budgets, so demonstrating the financial benefits to be gained from a project is always desirable. However, your public office may also have a profile that needs to demonstrate that it is complying implicitly with legislation including the State Records Act, or your public office may require access to information quickly and frequently and outlining the benefits of a sentencing project in regards to retrieval may help your cause.

There are a myriad of reasons of why a sentencing project is necessary, however you need to be aware that the project will generally only be approved for funding if it is seen to be beneficial to the public office as well as a legal requirement

How do I quantify the expected benefits?

Once you have decided how the project will benefit the public office, you need to quantify this. The key to remember is that the benefit should be measurable. Vague comments such as 'the project would benefit the public office by making retrieval easier' will generally not win your project support.

The best way to quantify the expected benefits is through a forecast. Forecasts based on current statistics are helpful and can be made from information gathered from the preliminary survey. Graphs and illustrations are great aids in outlining your point. These are especially helpful to quantify numbers. For example - 'Statistics show that records have grown by 30% in the last two years. Based on this, it is a good estimate that without a sentencing and disposal project that by XXXX there will be x number of records'.

There may also be statements in your business case that can not easily be demonstrated by a table or chart. These things are statements such as '…will make it easier/better/faster' and should be avoided if possible. To be able to measure such statements you need to do some research and actually work out how long something takes to do and how the project will make it easier and then set an achievable goal. For example - 'Based on current GIPA  Act practices, it takes on average of between 3 and 5 days to retrieve and find information. By sentencing and disposing of records that are no longer required (approximately 20% of records within the office), retrieval time will be reduced as relevant information will be more accessible. This reduction, based on the expected disposal of records that are not in use, will be reduced to 1 to 3 days.'

It is important that within your business case you try to quantify the expected benefits. This will add to your business case in that the outcome of not doing the project will be obvious. Remember, information is often better understood through a diagram or graph. The sample business case attached (Appendix 1) is fictional and serves to demonstrate the kinds of things that can be used in a proposal for a sentencing project. As has been stated already, guidelines and procedures for project management must be followed according to those your public office.

Once your business case has been approved, or you have been asked to provide a project plan, the next step is the creation of a project plan.

Your project plan should detail everything that was in the business case, as well as add in other information such as a detailed timeline and reporting responsibilities.


How do I tackle the problem of accumulated records if I can not get approval for a sentencing project right now?

If approval for a project seems unlikely, do not despair! If there is a problem with policy and procedures, then get that in line first. If you do not have a current functional disposal authority, contact State Records NSW and get that in order. If your project is simply refused as there are no current funds, you can still do little things to try to maintain sentenced records.

Examples of ways to keep up with sentencing:

  • Every time a box is retrieved from storage, go through the contents and sentence or check the sentence already assigned.
  • Set a particular time to sentence a few boxes each month
  • Ensure NAP is implemented appropriately throughout the organisation
  • Try to raise awareness throughout the public office
  • Hold regular records 'clean up days' to try to halt the accumulation

You can rework your business case and perhaps ask where it could be improved and try again at a later date.

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Appendix 1

Sample Business Case for Public Office X

Published 2008 / Revised 2013 / Updated November 2022

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