Recordkeeping guidelines for University committees

Introduction
Types of Committees
Committee Meeting Formats
What are Committee Records?
Access & Privacy
Managing & Disposing of Transitory Records
Recommended Practices for Taking Minutes
Organizing Meeting Records
Retention of Official Committee Records
Scanning Paper Records 

Introduction

Committees, ad hoc and permanent/continuing, are integral to the functioning of the University. These guidelines will assist committee chairs and secretaries in managing the records of University committees. Following these guidelines helps to ensure that committee decisions and actions are accessible when needed and facilitates compliance with Policy 46 – Information Management and the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).

Types of Commi​ttees

Governance: Board of Governors, Senate, Faculty Councils, and their committees and councils.

Mandatory committees: These are committees mandated by legislation or external agencies. They include the Joint Health & Safety Committee and research ethics committees.

Adjudicative committees: These are committees which decide or make recommendations regarding, for example, faculty appointments, tenure and promotion, senior administrative appointments, the awarding of scholarships or honours, and the allocation of certain types of research funding.

Administrative committees: There are numerous University-level and departmental committees, ad hoc committees and taskforces, supporting the operations of the University. Similarly, many University initiatives operate with the assistance of advisory boards and councils.

Committee Meeting Formats​

While many committees still meet face-to-face, remote meetings via conference calls and web-based videoconferencing are now routine. Be aware that when the proceedings of meetings are recorded (by audio, video, or in writing), these records may be included in a freedom of information request (see Access & Privacy, below, and the Guidelines on videoconference and teleconference Meetings).

What are Commi​ttee Records?

Committee records include: the committee’s mandate or terms of reference; meeting records such as agendas, minutes, and supporting documents; reports produced by the committee; and working records such as current membership lists and members’ contact information, room reservations, catering orders, etc. Depending on the nature of the committee, the supporting documents for meetings may include reports, proposals, presentations, and case files for awards, grants, job applications, promotions, etc.

Informally constituted groups such as ad hoc taskforces, working groups, and staff meetings may not require formal minutes. The work of these groups may be documented by, for example, notes on action items or final reports.

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Access & P​rivacy

Most committee records are classified as confidential or restricted under the Policy 46 information confidentiality classification. Records made available without restrictions, such as the terms of reference and minutes of open sessions, are classified as “public.” Consult the Guidance on Information Confidentiality Classification for more information on the confidentiality classification of records. Committee records are subject to FIPPA, which means that

  • All or part of a committee’s records may be accessible in response to a freedom of information request even though the University considers the committee’s work to be confidential.
  • Committee records containing identifiable personal information are classified as restricted, or, in some cases, highly restricted, and must be protected from unauthorized access and disclosure. New committee members or even a new chair may be denied access to records of the committee’s previous deliberations to protect the privacy of individuals’ personal information. Committee chairs and secretaries can contact the Privacy Officer or University Records Manager for assistance in making these determinations.

Create committee records with the expectation that they could be made accessible under FIPPA. Meeting minutes should be concise and objective with the decision clearly recorded. Do not include unsubstantiated or subjective comments and opinions in the minutes or other committee records. Avoid attributing comments to a specific person where possible. See below for recommended practices for taking minutes.

Records should be stored according to recommended security measures to protect them from unauthorized access and disclosure (see Guidelines for confidential records). Access should be provided only on a need-to-know basis, to authorized University employees or to other individuals serving as committee members. Paper records should be stored in locked cabinets and these cabinets should not be in a public area. Electronic records should be stored in secure, password-protected University systems, and should only be shared by methods described in the Guidelines for secure data exchange. Confidential – including restricted and highly restricted – records should be disposed of using secure disposal practices (see Confidential Shredding ProceduresElectronic Media Disposal Guidelines).

Any breach of security of committee records must be reported following the Information Security Breach Response Procedure.

    Managing & Disposing of Transitory Records

    The committee chair should provide direction to members on the secure disposal of copies of confidential committee records. These copies are transitory records, distinct from the committee's official records, that should be destroyed when they are no longer needed for the committee's work. The following are recommended practices:

    • Collect and shred paper copies distributed to committee members at the end of a meeting or once a decision is made.
    • Use a secure system such as MS Teams/SharePoint for electronic records rather than distributing by email and encourage members to use the electronic version rather than print copies. Instruct members that any copies made from SharePoint are to be securely destroyed; and
    • Educate new committee members regarding expectations for keeping/disposing of copies at the beginning of their term.

    Informal notes taken by the committee secretary or members during meetings, and chat messages in systems like MS Teams, are also transitory records that could be included in an access to information request. Since they are not part of the official record, best practice is to destroy them once the minutes have been approved. This is often not possible for chat messages in meeting systems such as MS Teams, so committees should consider implementing rules to limit or prohibit the use of chat features during meetings, as recommended in the Guidelines on use of e-mail and instant messaging.

    Similarly, if the proceedings of a meeting are recorded, the recording cannot substitute for the minutes of the meeting and should be securely destroyed as a transitory record once the official minutes have been approved.

    Committee working records – e.g., copies of catering orders, room bookings, email to schedule meetings or convey regrets, and draft notes from meetings – are also transitory records that should be retained for only as long as they are needed for current work, and then securely destroyed.

    Recommended Practices for Taking Minutes

    The minutes are the official record of the discussions and decisions of the committee. The record is made for the use of the members participating in the discussions and decisions, and, where appropriate, for those members who were not in attendance. It is best to write minutes as soon as possible after the meeting.

    The minutes should include:

    • Name of the committee or group holding the meeting
    • Date of the meeting
    • Names of those present, including guests, and any absences/regrets; the chair, secretary and any resources to the committee should be identified
    • Approval of the minutes, noting any changes, and any business arising
    • Record of any formal motions, decisions or action items, and related discussions
    • Clear identification of any documents presented and/or discussed.

    When recording discussions, focus on ideas, arguments, and facts. Ideally, the minutes should allow a reader to understand the rationale for the committee’s decisions and its rejection of alternatives. Record the points made, not the people who made them (examples: “Discussion included perceptions by students that…,” or, “In the discussion, the following points were raised…,” or “Members favoured the proposal for the following reasons…”).

    There are two exceptions to the foregoing rule. Contributions may be attributed to a specific person if that person expressly requests it, and the meeting agrees that it should be part of the minutes. When recording presentations, reports, or other scheduled items, it is acceptable to record the names of individuals acting in their professional capacity (e.g., John Green, Director of Campus Beautification, presented a report on “Re-designing Flower Beds for Maximum Colour Impact”).

    For examples, see the minutes of Board of Governors and Senate and their committees and councils posted on the Secretariat’s website.

    Organizing Meeting Records

    The recommended practice is to arrange meeting records in chronological order so that all records for one meeting are together, including the agenda, minutes, attachments, and other documents which are to be discussed at the meeting. It may be appropriate to keep case records, such as job applications or applications for an award, separate from the other committee records.

    Paper records can be stored in binders, separated by dividers for each meeting date, or in files organized by date.

    Electronic records: separate folders should be kept for each committee, with sub-folders to maintain the chronological order of the records. Folders for each meeting date can be moved to a folder for the year at the end of the calendar or academic year (depending on the nature of the committee’s work). Contact the University Records Manager for further assistance with organizing records.

    Computer files for agendas, minutes, and reports should be named consistently with the same elements in the same order, using abbreviations only if they are in common usage at the University. The elements can be separated by a hyphen or underscore character. The file name should include the committee’s name (or an abbreviation/acronym if it is commonly used and understood by the University community), the document type (e.g., agenda, minutes, report), and meeting date. Use the date formats YYYY-MM-DD or YYYYMMDD, to facilitate chronological sorting of files.

    Files for attachments, other documents, and committee specific folders may be named at the discretion of the committee secretary or chair. Use the standard date format (YYYY-MM-DD or YYYYMMDD) when adding a date to a file name and add the committee name (or the chosen abbreviation or acronym) to any files created for a particular committee.

    Committee records should be stored in a location or system accessible to all individuals authorized to access the records, such as a SharePoint site, and not a personal workspace (e.g., OneDrive), to ensure they are always available when needed as a University resource, subject to appropriate permissions.

    For committees dealing with personal information, the committee chair and secretary must ensure that new committee members do not have access to previous committee records they are not authorized to see (see Access & Privacy above).

    Retention of Official Committee Records

    Some committee records have long-term or permanent value to the University and will be retained as part of the University archives. These committees include: the Board of Governors and its committees, Senate and its committees and councils, faculty councils and their committees, University-level committees, advisory boards and councils, and academic department committees.

    Records of committees mandated by government, or which perform adjudicative functions such as committees which recommend or decide on hiring, or the awarding of scholarships, grants, etc. have shorter retention periods. The retention requirements for committee records are documented in the University of Waterloo Classification and Records Retention Schedule (WatClass). For example, AD20 - Administrative Committees, and the Governance section of WatClass. Contact the University Records Manager for assistance in identifying the appropriate records retention schedule for your committee records.

    Scanning Paper Records

    Paper committee records may be imaged/scanned for the convenience of committee members. In some cases, the original paper documents may have long-term historical value, requiring their transfer to the University archives rather than destruction. Please contact the University Records Manager for assistance with identifying such records.

    Updated 17 May 2022.

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