Administrative Rule 12

On May 1, 2001, Wisconsin’s new administrative rule on electronic records management became effective. Administrative Rule 12 (ADM 12) has important implications for the maintenance of University records. The rule extends many fundamental records concepts and practices into the electronic environment, but it also contains requirements specifically to govern electronic information systems that create and maintain public records.


In 1995, Wisconsin Act 27 amended the State Public Records optical disk storage requirement under s.16.6111 Stats. to include electronic storage. The definition of public records was also modified to include electronically formatted documents.

The Department of Administration was charged with developing an administrative rule applicable to state agencies and local units of government. The objective of the rule is to ensure that the quality of public records in electronic format is maintained and that public records in electronic format remain accessible for their designated retention period.

An interagency team was appointed to develop the rule. It consisted of members from five different state agencies, the State Historical Society, Legislative Council, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Team members represented several different functional areas and professional disciplines including lawyers, archivists, information technologists, records managers, and the Public Records Board.


Administrative Rule 12 stipulates that if your department maintains any of its official records in electronic format only, then certain requirements must be met to insure that electronic records are retrievable, accessible, reproducible, etc. throughout their retention life.

As defined by Administrative Rule 12, retention life is the period of time the records need to be retained to meet audit, legal, administrative, research, or historical needs for the records. This time period is determined through the records appraisal process that is done in connection with the development of a records retention schedule.

In Wisconsin State government, the records schedule is formally referred to as a records retention disposition authorization (RDA). The RDA is reviewed and approved through the Public Records Board which is the statutory authority for records in Wisconsin government. Prior to submitting proposed RDAs from UW-Madison, they are also reviewed by the Campus Records Review Group.

The rule does not require a State agency or local unit of government to keep their public records in any particular format or storage medium. The effect of the rule is that State agencies and local units of government need to realize the implications of media and storage choices. It is strongly advised that records requirements, therefore, be addressed as early as possible in the information systems development process.


The cost of creating and maintaining records has always been a part of conducting the business of governing. The costs were frequently not documented well or assumed to be a part of the overhead of an office. There will be costs for the maintenance of electronic records because they require special precautions to ensure their availability over time.

Specific costs are difficult to project at this time. Campus departments are well advised when doing major system upgrades or developing a new system to build in the cost for records maintenance and retention. Building in system functionality to meet records needs at the front is normally considerably cheaper than customizing a system after the fact.

Technical Requirements

The rule outlines several specific requirements that information systems must meet if they produce official public records. Some of these include:

  • Must maintain accurate linkages, electronically or by other means, to transactions supporting records where these linkages are essential to the meaning of the record.
  • Must be able to produce that will continue to have meaning throughout their retention life. In many instances, this will require the development and implementation of a data migration strategy. Migration means the set of organized tasks designed to achieve the periodic transfer of digital materials from one hardware/software configuration to another.
  • Must have the capability to delete and purge records from a system in accordance with an approved records retention schedule.
  • Must be able to accurately reproduce a record with a high degree of legibility and readability and correctly reflect the original record.
  • Must insure the records authenticity. Information systems must be able to document that only authorized persons were involved in the creation, receipt, transmission, maintenance and disposition of records. This may mean that information systems may need to substantiate security and other measures to be sure the records integrity has been maintained.


Currently there is not an electronic records equivalent to a records center or archives. Some type of storage capability will need to be developed which can serve to support the retention of inactive electronic records. Planning needs to be undertaken to meet the electronic archival needs of the campus as well.


There is not currently any campus-wide policy or approach on this issue. The Campus Records Review Group has met with representatives of the campus administration and the Acting Provost, and it is anticipated that some type of campus planning group will be formed to deal with this important topic.