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Ethics Update: Document management

Recent personal experience has highlighted the importance of every day document management for geoscientists working in industry or government.

The AIG Code of Ethics requires compliance with professional standards for balanced, material and transparent public reporting of exploration results, mineral resources and ore reserves (the JORC Code) and valuation of mineral securities (the VALMIN Code).  These codes of practice invariably require production of reports.  But they are not the only activity that requires geoscientists to document interpretations and actions of geological data, or exercise judgement in the course of our work.  Commercial disputes or perceived non-compliance with corporations, privacy and other laws can result in work performed by geoscientists becoming legally discoverable in the course of preparing for court action.  It’s not just the Complaints o Ethics and Standards Committee to which we may need to demonstrate sound professional practice.

There are several measures that have proved to be useful in my experience.

  1. Include a date and version number in every report or substantive document documenting geoscientific judgement or compliance with statutory procedures.  Document versions need to be numbered sequentially and the date of the document should be updated in a manner consistent with document versions.  I condor it good practice to record both the date the document was originally produced, which remains fixed, and a date that the document was last updated, which demonstrates the time period over which the current version of the document evolved.  Something as simple as correcting typing warrants recording a document update with the document version number and date.
  2. Record work related to a project in a notebook.  It pays to use a seperate notebook for major projects that involve public reporting or other substantive work.  I prefer a bound notebook with numbered pages, from which pages can’t be removed without it being noticed.  Notebooks can be discoverable in legal cases, which means that you’ll lose it for the duration of the preparations and hearing of the case.  I stick to paper, but it may be that electronic notebooks nowadays, using software that retains note versions and dates them like Microsoft OneNote or Evernote is a good option.  The potential advantage of these is that discovery may not lead to loss of access to the data, and the notes can be accessed from multiple devices without compromising their integrity.  Keep your paper notebooks private.
  3. File your emails.  Keep everything in an organised, logical manner, even if you think the email is not consequential or significant.  Most email programs offer good, logical filing capabilities and create threads linking messages that are part of particular conversations.
  4. Keep your electronic and paper files, again, in a logical manner and make sure that they are secure.  Access controls and good backups are a must for all electronic data.  Backups must cover you in the event of theft or destruction of both a computer and the premises where it is used.  Cloud services are a good option.  Service providers look after the backup issue and data is stored off-site, but make sure that the terms of use offered by the provider do not compromise your ownership of your data, or permit the service provider to make use of it in any way, especially disclosure of data to third parties.

What is your experience?  Do you have additional experience and ideas that can contribute to good practice by others?  Leave a post on this page to continue the conversation.

Andrew Waltho
18 July 2018

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