Recordkeeping guidelines for university committees

Types of Committees
Committee Meeting Formats
What are Committee Records?
Access and Privacy
Taking Minutes - Recommended Practices
Organizing Meeting Records
Retention of Committee Records
Paper vs. Electronic Committee Records 


Committees, ad-hoc and permanent/continuing, are integral to the functioning of the University. These guidelines are intended to assist committee chairs and secretaries in managing the records of University committees. Following these guidelines will help ensure that committee decisions and actions are easily retrievable when needed and will facilitate the University’s compliance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA).

Types of Commi​ttees

Governance: the Board of Governors and Senate and their committees and councils

Faculty Councils: and their committees

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, prizes, and honours; and the allocation of certain types of research funding.

Administrative committees: There are also numerous University level and departmental committees, ad hoc committees and taskforces, which support 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, technology is providing new and increasingly popular methods for people to meet remotely using, for example, conference calls, videoconferencing, and web meetings. Be aware that when the proceedings of meetings are recorded (whether by audio, video, or in writing), these records may be included in a freedom of information request (see Access and privacy below).

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.

Back to top

Access and P​rivacy

Depending on the nature of the committee, committee records may be public or subject to the security classification of confidential or restricted (see Policy 46: Information Management for more information on information privacy & confidentiality classifications). Committee records are subject to FIPPA, which means that

  • all or part of a committee’s records may be accessible in the event of a freedom of information request whether or not we consider all or any of the work of the committee to be “confidential”
  • committee records containing identifiable personal information must be protected from unauthorized access. It may be inappropriate for new committee members or even a new chair to have access to the committee’s previous deliberations.

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. Avoid unsubstantiated or subjective comments. Avoid attributing comments to a specific person where possible. (See below for recommended practices for taking minutes.)

Confidential and restricted records should be stored according to recommended security measures to protect them from inappropriate disclosure (see Guidelines for confidential records). Access should be provided only on a need to know basis. Paper records should be stored in locked cabinets, not in a public area. Electronic records should be protected by the use of passwords and other appropriate methods to restrict access, and should be shared using the methods described in the Guidelines for secure data exchange. Confidential and restricted records should be disposed of using secure disposal practices (see Confidential Shredding ProceduresElectronic Media Disposal Guidelines).

The committee chair should provide direction on the secure disposal of copies of confidential committee records. 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 site such as SharePoint for electronic records rather than distributing by email, and encourage members to use the electronic version rather than print copies; direct 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 recording secretary or other attendees could be included in an access to information request. Since these are not part of the official record, best practice is to destroy them (as transitory records) once the minutes have been approved. If the proceedings of a meeting are recorded, the recording should not substitute for a written summary of the meeting and should be securely destroyed once the official record has been approved.

Any breach of security of committee records which are subject to a privacy & confidentiality classification other than public must be reported following the Information Security Breach Response Procedure.

Taking Minutes - Recommended Practices

The minutes are the official record of the discussions and decisions of the committee. The record is made for the use of the members and, where appropriate, for those 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 various committees and councils posted on the Secretariat’s website.

Organizing Meeting Records

Paper 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 files, such as job applications or applications for an award, separately.

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

Electronic records: separate folders should be kept for each committee, with sub-folders for each committee meeting date. These folders for each meeting date can then 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 these records.

Files for agendas, minutes, and reports should be named consistently with the same elements in the same order and using agreed upon abbreviations. The elements may be separated by a hyphen. The file name should include the meeting date (yyyy-mm-dd or yyyymmdd, to facilitate sorting of files), the type of file (agenda, minutes, or report), and an agreed abbreviation or acronym for the committee name.

Files for attachments, other, and committee specific folders – may be named at the discretion of the committee secretary/chair. For example, files to be attached to the agenda may be left as named by the sender or changed so that they sort in a way that makes retrieval easy for the secretary/chair. Use the standard format (yyyy-mm-dd or yyyymmdd) when adding a date to a file name, and add the agreed committee abbreviation or acronym to any files created for a particular committee.

Committee records should be stored in a common location such as a shared network drive or SharePoint site, rather than on personal computer space, so they are always available – subject to appropriate permissions – when needed as a University resource. For committees that deal with sensitive personal information, care must be taken that new committee members do not have inappropriate access to previous committee files (see Access and Privacy above).

Back to top

Retention of 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, AD30 - Administrative Committees (PDF), and the Governance section of WatClass. Contact the University Records Manager for assistance in identifying the appropriate records retention schedule for your committee records.

Most working records related to committees (e.g., copies of catering orders and room bookings, regrets sent by email and other email related to setting up meetings, rather than to the substantive business of the committee, and draft notes from meetings) are transitory records and should be destroyed or deleted once they are no longer needed for current work.

Paper vs. Electronic Committee Records

Paper committee records may be imaged (scanned) for the convenience of users (e.g., for ease of search and retrieval or to post a copy on the web site). The paper originals should be transferred to the University archives rather than destroyed, if the committee’s records have been identified as having long-term archival value.

Please contact the University Records Manager to determine which records have long-term historical value and should eventually be added to the University archives.

Updated January 11, 2019

Back to top