Tuesday, 8 September 2020

The legal basis of cloud-based policies

I've spent a good deal of my 9 years as a senior leader trying to convince people of the value of working canonically. My preferred cloud-based document software is Google Docs, built from the ground up around the canonical principle. But to be fair most other well-known word-processing packages now operate in much the same way.

It's been hard going, though. People still insist that they must convert important documents to .pdfs or (worse) locally saved .docx. What they're terrified of seems to boil down to this:

  1. A teacher stands on a chair (against school policy) to put up a display and promptly falls off, breaking their arm.
  2. The school is sued by the teacher for not informing them, in writing, that standing on chairs was unsafe. 
  3. In court, the school's policy on chair standing is read out, but the teacher claims that the version they were given was different and didn't specifically proscribe standing on chairs.
  4. Unable to prove otherwise, the school loses an expensive legal battle, its name and reputation are dragged through the mud in the national press etc.

My contention though is that the version history of a single document held by the school, time-stamped as it is, is far better proof of what has actually gone on (and easier to find when the paperwork is asked for) than immutable versions stored all over the network. All the school needs to do is demonstrate that said teacher acknowledged having read the policy on such-and-such a date and, if the vital clause is present, voila.

The trouble with immutable versions is:

  • people searching for documents on the network come across out-of-date copies and are none the wiser
  • as people move on, change jobs, etc. the network becomes increasingly chaotic and/or needs constant maintenance
  • there's no single up-to-date version of the truth
  • you get ridiculous things like this sent around:

(Okay that was done deliberately to wind me up, but I have received things almost as infuriating not in jest!)

So my solutions to this little school management problem are:
  • Make all your important documents canonical - anything that's not is, by default, not an official version. It can be safely ignored/deleted from the network.
  • Record on each document any substantive changes as and when they are made. Save and name annual versions using the version history.
  • Use a suitable document management/HR package to record eyeballs over key policies.
  • Every so often, certainly at the start of the new year, draw staff attention to major updates.
  • At appointment, record eyeballs over the most essential policies only: safeguarding, staff handbook, social media use perhaps. Resist the temptation to do this for all policies as doing so dilutes the most important.
Having trawled the internet for the final word from HR legal eagles I can find nothing to disabuse me of this opinion. 

If you think/know I'm wrong I'd love to hear from you!