The University launches a new Public Records website in accordance with State Law

Filed in Featured, General by on January 26, 2017

As a state agency, the University of Massachusetts receives hundreds of public records requests every year.  From Board of Trustees documents to budget and other financial information, each request must be promptly evaluated and filled.  That process often requires considerable staff resources—from the system office and from the campuses.

On June 3, 2016, Governor Baker signed into law Chapter 121 of the Acts of 2016, “An Act to Improve Public Records,” which added significant new requirements for receiving, responding to, and tracking public records requests.  The new law also added a new requirement to make certain public records available through a searchable public website.

A cross-functional team was established to ensure that the University would meet the short and rapidly-approaching deadline.  The team included: Kristina England, Tracy Axelson, and Ralph Zottola from UITS; Sarah Mongeau from the Controller’s Office; Jeff Cournoyer and Ron Agrella from University Communications; Associate Counsel Karen Laisne, who also prepared and delivered training on the new requirements with General Counsel Deirdre Heatwole; and Mark Preble from Administration & Finance.  The team assessed the current processes and quickly determined that it could deliver a solution to meet the new requirements and improve the user experience, while significantly reducing the time and effort needed to respond to public records requests.

The result was the design and development of a new University Public Records sub-site on the UMass Office of the President site with two key functions: a public records search database and a process to request records not currently available in the database.

The Records Request section provides the public with contact information for the Campus Public Records Administrators (phone, email, etc.) as well as a new online form for those interested in submitting electronically.  The online form collects and monitors the form requests through a database.  Once a request is submitted, Campus Records Administrators are notified of a new request through a triggered workflow process.  In addition, the database provides the System Office with a backend reporting feature that will allow the office to run an annual report for the state.  Metrics on filled and unfilled requests will also lend to further assessment, business process improvement, and streamlining.

The Public Records Search Database includes a search engine for hundreds of commonly-requested public records—which will reduce the number of ad hoc requests, as staff will no longer be required to gather, copy, and send records that are readily available in the records database.  This searchable database will also bring the University into compliance with the new requirements of the law.

The new Public Records site can be found at https://www.umassp.edu/public-records

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