Legal Innovation in Government: An Interview with Josh Schaffer

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As data volumes continue to grow, state and local governments have to do more, fast – even when the budget is tight. To learn more about what cities are doing to address these issues, I’ve invited Josh Schaffer, City Records Manager for the City of Minneapolis, for a conversation about how they are leading innovation for the city’s public records management.

Alicia: Tell us about your position as the City Records Manager for the City of Minneapolis. What does your role entail?

Josh: As the City Records Manager of Minneapolis, I am responsible for the development and implementation of sound information governance policies throughout the city enterprise. A major component of this work for me and my team is the responsibility for management of public records requests pursuant to the State’s open records law, The Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. This is where we have started to look to new tools and technology to meet both the growing demands of the public and our own internal desire to promote transparency and accountability in the City. 

Alicia: What are the main challenges you've faced as you explore new technology for records management?

Josh: As with any government entity, we are often constrained by the resources accessible to us at any given time; whether that is staff, technology, or funds for the procurement of new tools. We work diligently to maintain compliance with state, local and federal laws and requirements while at the same time trying to streamline and improve processes and procedures to ensure our ability to evolve with the changing landscape of interaction between the public and their government.

Alicia: In the past, what tools have you used to manage your records requests? What has been your experience?

Josh: Historically, we have been reliant on a patchwork of tools for our management of public records requests. These have consisted of various spreadsheets such as Excel and Smartsheet, trial versions of discovery tools, physical redaction processes, Adobe Acrobat, and a host of other piloted technologies. What we’ve found in the process is that we needed a more centralized approach to the management of requests, particularly when it came to gathering, reviewing and producing data.

Alicia: During your procurement process for a centralized tool, what were you looking for? What prompted you to select DISCO?  

Josh: Having a different use-case than our City Attorney’s Office, who partnered with us on the selection and procurement process, we were more focused on DISCO’s capability to function as a review and production tool for the management of public records requests. As such, our needs focused on finding a tool that allowed for collaborative work on specific matters/requests, a cloud-based solution that took the burden of processing off of local machines, a user-friendly interface, and a solution that combined ingestion, review (tagging, classification, redaction, etc.), and production onto a centralized, navigable dashboard that streamlined our entire records request management process.

Alicia: What has been your experience while using DISCO for ediscovery?

Josh: We have found the training and support process incredibly straight-forward, such that we were able to have all of our staff up and running in the system in a matter of days. Centralizing our management of requests within DISCO has allowed us to work together and quickly address a backlog of cases that were stalled in a collection or review phase prior to the implementation of the system. We are excited about the new features that are forthcoming and we are continually improving our processes within the system as we learn more about the functionality and capabilities available to us. We had piloted other systems in the past which were capable of meeting our needs, but the UI experience and process with DISCO has been the major factor in user acceptance and process improvement for our team.

Alicia: What do you see as future challenges for the public sector in regard to data and discovery management?

Josh: With the shift to the management of more and more records in electronic databases and repositories, there has been concurrent growth in requests for access to this information from a public focused on increasing government transparency and accountability. Meeting this demand requires not only a reactive approach but a proactive focus as well. As a City enterprise, Minneapolis is focused on developing the tools, technology and staff resources that will allow us to stand out as an exemplar of information governance best practices. This requires the flexibility and capacity necessary to manage data and information from a growing number of sources that weren’t historically considered or utilized in the conduct of government business such as personal devices, social media, external data sources, remote workers and so forth. Having the right systems in place to meet these demands will be critical to our growth and improvement going forward.  

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Alicia Brewer