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What is 'data'?

'Data' is the plural of 'datum' and refers to facts or things that are known (Oxford English Dictionary). In a digital world, data are the values contained in:

  • databases
  • the letter and words on a page of text
  • numbers in a spreadsheet
  • keywords, tags and labels that help something to be located or describe something
  • components that make up code for a computer program
  • and so much more.

Data can be structured, for example held in databases or tables that clearly assign specific values to the data. Or data can be unstructured, for example as part of text: where the context of the data is in its relation to the data around it, and where the relationship may need to be interpreted by something else.


Can data be a public record?

The Public Records Act 1973 (the Act) definition of a public record is very broad and includes data. It aligns with the Evidence Act 2008 definition of document which covers:

  • anything on which there is writing
  • anything on which there are marks, figures, symbols or perforations having a meaning for persons qualified to interpret them
  • anything from which sounds, images or writings can be reproduced with or without the aid of anything else
  • a map, plan, drawing or photograph.

Victorian legislation is generally technologically neutral. The Act does not differentiate between different formats or mechanisms used to create records. Neither does it require records to consist of specific components. Instead, the Act enables the Keeper of Public Records to establish Standards governing the creation, management, storage and disposal of public records. It is through the Standards issued under the Act that best practice records management, including the components required for good public records, are defined.

Data, like any other public record, must be managed in accordance with the Standards issued under the Act.

Data and recordkeeping requirements

While all data is technically a record, for the record to be evidentially valuable it needs to meet additional requirements. The Standards issued by the Keeper define the components needed to ensure that public records have and retain their integrity as evidence of government decision making, actions and communications over time for as long as they are needed. The Standards cover the lifecycle of a record as well as strategic and operational management. 

For example, requirements for PROS 19/05 Create, Capture and Control Standard include the following:

'Public offices must determine:

  • what records are needed
  • how the records should be described (i.e. required metadata)
  • how the records should be created (i.e. responsibilities and processes)
  • how these records are to be consistently and routinely captured (i.e. systems, processes, formats).

This determination must be based on the value and function of the records to the organisation, government and the community, considering both current and future needs.'

Addressing the above requirements needs consideration of:

  • the purpose of the data: for example, what function and activity or process does it relate to?
  • the value of the data: how is it valuable, to who, and why?
  • the completeness of the data: what is needed for it to be full and accurate?
  • the context of the data: what does it relate to, how, and why?
  • the longevity of the data: how long will it be needed for, what does it need to continue to be accessible and useable during that time?
  • any risks associated with the data: for example, security risks, preservation risks, privacy risks and system functionality risks all impact on how the data is to be stored, managed and accessed over time
  • any additional information that may need to be captured and associated with the data: for example, information about its format to enable it to be read, who is authorised to access it and under what conditions, what happens to the data once its retention period is completed and so on.

This will help to identify what data will form the record as well as what additional data and metadata will need to be captured and related to it in order to best describe it in context. All of this together forms the 'record'.

Data may be part of the record, or the whole record, as well as being the metadata used to describe the record. Metadata elements required for recordkeeping are specified in various metadata schemes. The preferred schemes used in Victoria are:

The minimum metadata set for Victorian public records is provided in PROS 19/05 S2 Minimum Metadata Requirements Specification.

For records specified in retention and disposal authorities (RDAs) as being of permanent value, to be transferred to PROV as State Archives, metadata must be packaged in a particular way. This is described in PROS 19/05 S5 Adding Metadata Packages to VERS Encapsulated Objects (VEOs) Specification.

Data is constantly being updated, added to, deleted, adjusted and moved. Decisions need to be made about what is to be preserved, how, when to preserve it and in what form.

PROV developed the Victorian Electronic Records Strategy (VERS) to enable the long-term preservation of electronic/digital records. VERS uses the VERS Encapsulated Object (VEO) format to ensure that records are captured along with their contextual metadata in a long-term sustainable format so they may be accessed, read and used over time in a manner that preserves the integrity of the record.

Software Independent Archiving of Relational Databases (SIARD) was developed by the Swiss Federal Archives in 2004 for long-term preservation of databases. It is one of the long-term sustainable formats recommended by PROV. A full list can be found in PROS 19/05 S3 Long Term Sustainable Formats Specification.

Under the Act, anything (including data) created or received by a public officer in the course of their duties is a public record and must be managed as such. Disposal of data must be lawful and undertaken in accordance with a disposal authority issued by the Keeper.

Requirements for disposal are covered by PROS 22/04 Disposal Standard. This includes the development and use of RDAs which are issued as Standards under the Act.


  • set the mandatory minimum retention period(s) for records based on the records purpose
  • authorise the destruction of records once the minimum retention time has been met
  • specify records that are to be retained permanently as State Archives.

General RDAs cover the records related to functions and activities that are common to many public offices in the Victorian Government.

Function specific RDAs cover records relating to functions that are carried out by a select number of public offices or those unique to a single public office.

PROV recognises that data is frequently and legitimately updated, overwritten and deleted. The principle of disposal in accordance with normal administrative practice (NAP) enables the revision and deletion of minor content updates, such as those in databases, which will not be needed to show actions, decisions or approvals.

Access provisions are generally in relation to:

  • State Archives held by PROV being open unless specifically closed under a relevant section of the Act
  • public records being able to be identified, located, retrieved, read and used for the duration of their retention periods.

PROV access requirements are located in PROS 19/06 Access Standard.

Moving data from one public office to another due to machinery of government change or administrative change is addressed in PROS 23/01 Strategic Management Standard.

PROV does not have specific requirements regarding the sharing of data between public offices. Please refer to the Data Sharing Policy and associated Heads of Agreement and the Data Exchange Framework.

For access in relation to privacy and security, see the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner.

Material in the Public Record Office Victoria archival collection contains words and descriptions that reflect attitudes and government policies at different times which may be insensitive and upsetting

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples should be aware the collection and website may contain images, voices and names of deceased persons.

PROV provides advice to researchers wishing to access, publish or re-use records about Aboriginal Peoples