Tips for Documenting Your City’s COVID-19 Response

June 22, 2020

Researchers and staff will benefit from the records you keep now regarding pandemic-related decisions and activities.

The Minnesota State Archives staff at the Minnesota Historical Society encourages local governments to document their response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and offers guidance for doing so.

Future researchers, as well as future staff of your city, will benefit from the records you keep now regarding pandemic-related decisions and activities, including what was communicated with the public and how staff continued delivering services. The lessons you learn along the way now may also assist in planning for or responding to a future crisis.

Document normal and new activities

While maintaining your normal records according to approved records retention schedules, please keep in mind any new activities or engagement carried out in response to the pandemic that should be scheduled for permanent retention for historical purposes.

For example, in addition to official business, did staff mount a mask-making drive or work together to support local social services? If you share messages on your media accounts related to COVID-19, please tag the messages so they can be gathered more easily later to provide a more complete picture of how Minnesota responded to this challenging time.

You should save only what is produced by your city, not documents or information that originated elsewhere.

Steps for documentation

Cities are encouraged to do the following to document their pandemic response:

  • Start one or more COVID-19 files for records specifically related to this time (e.g., internal network files, a folder in your email, a folder for paper files).
  • Store digital records in their native format for the time being (including social media content, email, websites, etc.).
  • Compile a list of all the locations with digital content you created for preservation, including URLs, social media, email folders, hashtags, etc., so that you have a central reference point to use later when you want to capture the content.
  • Refer to the State Archives’ preferred formats document as a starting point for choosing file formats.
  • Preserve such written documents as:
    • Working from home and social distancing plans created internally for staff and for the public service.
    • Reports and memos on work and communications during this time.
    • Press releases and press coverage of your city’s response and related activities.
    • Correspondence showing significant new policies or work practices in place during the pandemic.
    • Materials published by your city for the populations you serve specific to COVID-19, especially those promoting any special programs your city developed during the pandemic
  • Preserve audio-visual material such as photos, videos, and other visual documents that show the life of your office, both on-site and virtually. Before and after shots documenting typical office life can be particularly striking.
  • Consider taking a screenshot of your staff video call grid, closed/reduced services signs you posted on your facility, and saving webinars conducted by staff for off-site training.
  • Document how your staff mobilized for a cause outside of work, like donating supplies to a medical facility or food bank, or making masks. Take pictures and save correspondence about it.
  • Consider other document types or media formats, not listed above, that you think are important to document your key activities during the pandemic response.

Questions?

For more information, contact State Archives staff members Charles Rodgers and Anjanette Schussler at statearchives@mnhs.org or (651) 259-3260.