Understanding Capstone and Its RoleIn 2013, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) provided “Guidance on a New Approach to Managing Email Records” known as the Capstone approach.

NARA intended the Capstone approach to provide a systematic and simplified way for federal agencies to manage email records, and many agencies successfully employed Capstone to help them meet the 2016 deadline for managing email records in an accessible electronic format under the Managing Government Records Directive.

Capstone provided practical guidance to what was, particularly at that time, a difficult records management requirement – especially given the sheer volume of email records produced. Over 100 billion emails are sent every day, and that number is expected to more than double within the next couple of years. Many of those emails create records that need to be permanently accessible for legal discovery, FOIA requests, and to meet other needs.

Capstone worked in part because it helped to automate a previously manual print-and-file process. Capstone was also helpful because it reduced the need for individual email users to independently determine whether a given email qualifies as a formal record for permanent retention. Instead, agencies appoint certain ‘Capstone’ email accounts as permanent records to be preserved and transferred to NARA. This creates a role-based, automated, and straight-forward approach to helping agencies determine what to preserve and what can be destroyed.

How well does Capstone work? In a 2018 review of Capstone’s effectiveness, NARA found that many agencies were using it successfully but that room for improvement persisted.

Indeed, the hallmarks of success with Capstone would also apply to other forms of electronics records. For example, Capstone requires agencies to have systems and tools in place to manage and retain email records until their disposition, while remaining simultaneously discoverable and retrievable. Specifically, the system must ensure that email records are: scheduled, protected against unauthored destruction, fully accessible and usable, with content, structure, and metadata all captured. These success factors also represent what is needed for electronic records management for other types of records.

However, the Capstone approach faces constraints and areas of uncertainty. One notable area of weakness: inter-departmental collaboration. NARA notes that improved communication, with more efficient workflows, is needed for records management staff, IT staff, and human resources to work together more effectively.

This hints at another important-to-remember element of any transition to an electronic records management methodology: people, rather than technology, represent one of the biggest hurdles to success. Any plan for transitioning to electronic record keeping must account for and address the human users in their agency.

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