What is document management?
Document management consists of organising an organisation’s documents so that they are safe from damage or loss (viruses, arson,unauthorized access), and can be easily accessed by the organisation’s staff. Documents include digital files, paper files, and professional emails.
Document management often means centralizing an organisation’s documents onto common file repositories, shared by a department or the whole organisation. This means hosting them on office servers, and increasingly on online servers.
Efficient document management is crucial for human rights NGOs, because their information is their most valuable asset, and needs to be accessed easily so that staff can find what they need and collaborate easily.
Four common challenges we find in our work with NGOs:
- Valuable information is kept on paper documents, in physical archives, that are vulernable to threats like arson or confiscation. A match and some kerosene may be enough to destroy ten years of work!
- Digital documents are usually kept on the computers of individuals, and not centralized into a common repository (server). This makes sharing and collaboration difficult, and means that different versions of the same document will often be stored on multiple computers, which is confusing and inefficient. Good practice: NGOs should centralize documents into common repositories which are accessible to the team members that need them.
- Digital documents are usually kept on computers which are not safely protected from viruses, spyware, unauthorized access. Back-up procedures may be inexistant or may not go far enough. We know of NGOs which have lost entire databases due to a simple and avoidable computer virus!
- NGOs should have a digitization policy that defines which paper documents are important and need to be scanned, and a digitization processes to scan and store these documents.
- Documents should be stored on repositories that are shared by a particular workgroup (research team, litigation team, etc.) to make file sharing and collaboration easier.
- NGOs should identify the risks and threats they face with regards to information security, and set up an approproate set of measures. This can include a good operation system with antivirus protection, measures to back up digital files and store them off the office premises, and training for staff on information security, in particular on password management.
What are we doing?
HURIDOCS advises human rights NGOs on how to store their paper and digital documents so they are secure and can be shared efficiently. We are also researching cost effective, easy to use, and secure online storage solutions – as online repositories are the trend for the future.
- HURIDOCS enabled a litigation NGO to store case-related documents securely, and share them across multiple offices. As their internet access is good, we used an online data repository hosted on a secure online server. Staff can access the online repository through their computer’s file manager, after entering a password.
- HURIDOCS enabled an NGO that documents xenophobia to set up an online sytem so that their files can be accessed and even edited from any internet-enabled computer. We use Knowledge Tree, a free and open source document management solution. The files are are stored in folders and each folder is tagged by keyword (region, theme, or status of case) so that it can be retrieved easily.
Learn more, take action
- If you wish to improve the document management systems of your NGO, please contact us, and we can help you find a cost effective yet powerful solutions.
- Read our page of information security tips.
- Read our page on setting up document repositories, for securing and sharing digital files.