4. Content and accessibility of the Knowledge Bank
4.1 The COPFS Knowledge Bank is found on the front page of the COPFS internal website (PF Eye). Access permissions are granted to nominated staff to manage content. For Knowledge Bank purposes access is granted to the Legal Editor and Library staff.
4.2 As stated content can be in the form of documents, pictures, FAQs, articles, etc. Hyperlinks can also be added to other documents or websites where appropriate.
4.3 The Legal Editor is responsible for adding, reviewing and editing legal information and guidance, providing advice on format and identifying 'search words' and 'links' to other materials. Editing also involves categorising materials under subject headings and the appropriateness of materials such as photographs. He also considers how new policies may impact on other materials.
4.4 Depending on urgency, once documents are edited they are either passed to the Staff Information Manager for immediate upload or saved into a folder on the Library shared drive pending future upload.
- Creating a web page
- Adding 'metadata23' or 'detailed description'
- Checking text, format, display name, etc in accordance with accessible information policy
- Adding links to other materials (links should have the name of the material being referred to)
- Adding cases and links to cases
- Adding an 'expiry' date24
- Adding a 'Category' eg Bail Manual, Book of Regulations, etc
- Adding 'Perspectives' which is used for segmentation (ie target audience) eg all staff, legal staff, specialist unit, etc
- Adding 'Basic Searches' eg search words
- Adding 'Author' - who created the document
4.5 Following this process, the document is uploaded and is then available to view on the Knowledge Bank. It will also be added to 'My Interests25' on PF Eye.
4.6 While, the content management system is not complex to use, uploading is time consuming especially for large documents. The metadata (description) and links, if not already prepared by the author, have to be identified and checked, search words need to be added and text requires to be examined for grammatical accuracy and accessibility. Consideration is also given as to how it will look on the screen to the user.
4.7 The re-structuring of the Knowledge Bank to introduce access to material through functional portals has been favourably received. This is especially useful now that Federations26 have been restructured into specialist functions eg Summary, Sheriff and Jury, etc.
4.8 While the current team dealing with the Knowledge Bank has built up considerable expertise in adding and editing material, there are no desk instructions relating to the management and maintenance of the Knowledge Bank. Desk instructions are important in providing continuity if a member of staff is absent or leaves the post.
4.9 The National Occupational Standards (NOS) provide advice on standards of performance27 to be achieved when carrying out functions in the workplace. Those that relate to providing and maintaining knowledge bases include: 'Create Content'; 'Edit Content' and 'Maintain Editorial Quality'. Elements of the above standards should be taken into account in the formulation of the desk instructions.
It is recommended that desk instructions are created for the processes and work relating to the management and maintenance of the Knowledge Bank.
Sources of Material
4.10 The main sources of information are Policy Division, including VIA, the Appeals Unit, and Strategy and Delivery Division (SDD).
4.11 Policy Division is responsible for the development and dissemination of COPFS prosecution policy. As a result of the Legal Guidance Communications Project in 2012/13, it was concluded that information should highlight important key facts, be targeted and concise. New templates have been developed to reflect the findings and key points/changes are now detailed on 'Operational Instructions' with links to background material.
4.12 Policy Division staff received external training on 'writing concisely' and there has been positive feedback that this has improved their skills in focussing on key points. Policy Division has also agreed to share their forthcoming work programme with Knowledge Bank staff so that the latter have an early indication of work that will come their way.
4.13 The Appeals Unit is responsible for work in relation to summary and solemn appeals and for the distribution of Opinions of the Appeal Court that are thought to be of interest/relevance to staff.
4.14 Strategy and Development Division (SDD) is responsible for delivering a programme of continuous improvement and this includes ensuring that staff are aware of and kept up to date with changes in operational manuals such as the Case Processing Manual.
4.15 Information/documents are also provided by other COPFS specialist units such as International Co-operation Unit, Civil Recovery Unit, High Court Unit, Environmental and Wildlife Unit and from other parts of COPFS such as Learning and Development Division. This tends to be information that is very specific to the work undertaken by the Unit. However, the provision of specialist information from such units is patchy and there is scope for more guidance and information to be provided by the specialist units to assist with staff rotation and for general research purposes.
4.16 Part of the Legal Editor's role is to proactively look for material that may be useful to staff from external sources such as SCS website, case law, legal Articles, and other legal sources such as Criminal Law Review, Juridical Review, Scottish Criminal Law, etc. The PF Eye online Community Forums are also a useful source of information and can often identify gaps. One example was the addition of on call guidance following a legal member of staff highlighting the absence of such material.
4.17 Our feedback survey showed that 32% of all respondents (47% of legal and 60% of VIA staff) want further materials to be added to the Knowledge Bank including draft styles, more procedural information and case law. (See Chapter 5 and Annex A for suggested materials for inclusion and survey results)
4.18 Guidance was uploaded onto the Knowledge Bank in June 2013 following the outcome of the 2012 communication survey on the steps to be taken by staff when drafting any material containing instructions and guidelines. In particular, it urges managers to identify important and relevant information that could be pulled out and accessed via a link. The guidance explains the role of library staff and offers assistance by the Staff Information Manager. The guidance is enhanced by a drafting checklist and the communications cover sheet.
4.19 The Communications Cover Sheet is a form that has to be completed when a document is to be loaded onto the PF Eye. It allows authors/owners of the information to provide a short description28 and give an indication of the target audience eg identified by function/division/grade/role, etc. It also allows for a headline title and for the earliest and latest date for publication.
4.20 Staff operating the Knowledge Bank advised that the Communications Cover Sheet is very helpful but it was not being used universally resulting in the Knowledge Bank staff having to provide descriptions etc. Library staff also advised that they would also encourage information providers to engage in greater consultation with them when adding large amounts of information on the database.
A reminder should be issued to all staff responsible for submitting information to the Knowledge Bank that a Communications Cover Sheet must be submitted and that the library staff are available to provide advice on format, especially where large documents are involved.
4.21 All documents uploaded to the Knowledge Bank are saved in the 'Library' shared folder in a file called 'Knowledge Bank'. It is from here that the Staff Information Manager accesses and uploads them. When a document is uploaded onto the Knowledge Bank the date it was created is recorded in the system. Any updates are also recorded.
Accuracy of Information
4.22 Part of the Knowledge Bank responsibilities is to review and maintain materials in collaboration with authors.
4.23 One element of uploading material is to either agree the automatic expiry date of one year or insert an alternative. Once the date expires a message is flagged up to the library staff that some action needs to be taken. Library staff will then advise the author and any changes required are undertaken. Even if no change is required the system has to be updated or the action will remain outstanding. A date at the foot of each document shows when it was last updated giving users an indication of the age of the information.
4.24 It was suggested that it would be more efficient if the system could automatically advise the author of the material that it has expired but it is acknowledged that due to staff moves it would be difficult to manage. It is considered, therefore, that the current system is preferable.
4.25 Major legal reforms can have significant resource implications for information bases as case law or legislative changes can have an impact on a substantial body of existing guidance and law and such changes can result in an extensive review process of a great deal of information on the Knowledge Bank. The policy implications flowing from the case of HMA v Cadder29 is such an example and there are still materials that require to be reviewed following that decision.
4.26 It is important that staff can confidently rely on the information on the Knowledge Bank and it is acknowledged by members of senior management who are regular contributors and the Knowledge Bank team that out of date versions of material are not always removed although this is less likely in high risk areas such as the case marking instructions. Examples of materials that currently do not reflect current processes and policies include the Precognosers Handbook30 and the case processing manual. In addition, there is duplication of some information with, for example, documents being available on the PF Eye separately from Knowledge Bank. Some documents contain differing and conflicting information, one example being information relating to Victim Information and Advice31. Out of date information may also have been saved by staff in their 'My Documents' in Word or in 'shared drives/common folders' or printed hardcopy which has since been updated online.
4.27 This can result in staff referring to obsolete information in their preparation of cases or impact on time taken for staff to carry out further research. At the very least it allows inconsistent practices to take place which runs contrary to the strategic aim of embedding the "COPFS" way.
4.28 Results from our feedback survey showed that overall 44% of all respondents felt that information was up to date while 48% felt it was only sometimes up to date. 62% felt information was accurate while 35% felt it was sometimes accurate. 57% felt it was consistent with other materials while 37% it was consistent sometimes. 60% felt they could confidently rely on information while 30% felt they sometimes could. In the main the figures were similar for each of the four areas of work (legal, precognition, administration and VIA) although some variation was noted between the main users (legal and precognition) and administration and VIA (See Annex A for results of the survey).
4.29 To prevent out of date materials and duplication of information, the Knowledge Bank staff are keen for a 'one stop shop' set up to be established removing the possibility of duplication and inconsistent practices. However, despite the recent addition of a new member of staff appointed as a web content manager32 freeing up time to allow the Staff Information Manager to focus more on the Knowledge Bank, there is currently deemed to be insufficient capacity to progress the aspiration of a one stop shop given the day to day demands.
4.30 Historically, assistance in editing and updating material was provided by a team of sub editors. The team of sub editors researched areas of law identified by the Legal Editor and due to their expertise and experience the relevant information could be retrieved quickly and then uploaded onto the Knowledge Bank. Examples include information relating to deaths, firearms, sexual offences, etc. However, this assistance was provided on an ad hoc basis and ceased over time due to other business demands.
4.31 The increasing move towards greater specialisation and the restructuring into Federations and functional working may provide an opportunity to reinvigorate the concept of having a wider group of contributors and provide more focused input to the Knowledge Bank. The operational delivery boards and the associated forums contain the relevant expertise in their areas and are well placed to undertake a review of existing guidance relevant to their particular areas of work.
4.32 For specialist units, a regular return to the library on a monthly basis could highlight any new guidance or cases etc that should be added to their web page.
To assist with improving quality assurance of the current material on the Knowledge Bank and in particular eliminating duplication and out of date guidance and to move towards the Knowledge Bank as a single source of all information, it is recommended that consideration is given to providing additional support to the existing resource available to the Legal Editor.
4.33 Under the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 disabled people should not be treated less favourably than other people when accessing services.
4.34 In relation to web sites they should be designed so that users of all abilities and disabilities33 can access them. They should be properly organised with clear navigation links and relevant illustrations. Information should be written clearly and be available in easy to read fonts.
4.35 In recognition of these requirements the COPFS 'Accessible Information Policy' aims to ensure that 'information, documents and publications are available to all people'. Information on the Knowledge Bank is compliant with this policy. For example, it is uploaded using Verdana font size 11 and is left indented. Key words are highlighted and links are shown in a different colour. Font sizes can be changed. Where other support is required such as screen reader software, keyboard overlays, etc, Health and Safety has the lead responsibility.
4.36 The Knowledge Bank is solely for internal use and all information uploaded to the Knowledge Bank is in English language.
4.37 An equality impact assessment has been undertaken as part of this inspection and no equality issues have been identified.
4.38 To gain access to the COPFS Knowledge Bank, users firstly click on the 'Knowledge Bank' tab on front page of the intranet (PF Eye) and secondly on one of:
- Hot topics
- Recent updates
- A-Z menu
4.39 Results from our feedback survey showed that staff did come across problems preventing them accessing the Knowledge Bank, however, these were not related to any particular deficiency of the Knowledge Bank. They mainly referred to internal website system failure, lack of time, lack of IT, etc. (See paragraph 5.11)
4.40 Methods of keeping staff up to date with what has been uploaded to the Knowledge Bank include:
- 'Knowledge Bank Current Awareness' - this can be found on the Knowledge Bank page and is designed to highlight new legal news, interesting appeal cases, publications and articles
- 'Staff Notices' - these are issued every week and include highlights on 'Knowledge Bank News' providing a brief description of articles issued during the week
- 'Recent Knowledge Bank Additions/Updates' - a list of latest additions and updates on the first page of the Knowledge Bank
- 'Bulletins' - issued every month to provide staff with information on corporate initiatives including improving legal guidance communications, linking reading with Continuing Professional Development (CPD), etc
- 'My Interests' - information added to individual accounts on PF Eye relevant to a person's job/function/federation34
- 'Must Read' - information considered to be of interest to all staff
- 'Personalised Weekly email' - reminders about information considered relevant to a person's job based on their job/function/federation
- 'Library Link' - library newsletter detailing current library news
4.41 Information relevant to the Knowledge Bank can be added in all of the above to advise staff of latest additions and updates. This can result in duplication in what is added to 'Must Read' and 'My Interests'. This has been identified by management and is being reviewed. We consider that there are adequate methods of advising staff about Knowledge Bank additions and updates.
Involvement in Training
4.42 A knowledge base gives support to organisational learning through sharing information knowledge35 with all staff. Having such a system in place should assist an organisation in its endeavour towards continuous improvement.
4.43 The Legal Editor is involved with legal trainee induction, Advocate Depute induction and attends SDD meetings. These involve giving presentations about the Knowledge Bank facility and how it works.
4.44 A DVD providing visual practical guidance on how to search for documents is planned. However, on the current system DVDs cannot be uploaded but this will be reviewed when the new intranet is introduced.
4.45 It has been acknowledged that people learn as a result of reading. In this regard, COPFS has reached agreement with the Law Society of Scotland regarding accreditation of certain materials in the Knowledge Bank for the purposes of CPD in respect of COPFS legal staff.
4.46 A selection of legal documents uploaded to the Knowledge Bank has been linked to questionnaires. Questionnaires are created on Survey Monkey which can provide management information on who and how many people have completed it. The questions are designed to assess the level of understanding before and after reading the material. The first of these to be accredited for legal staff CPD was Operational Instruction 6 of 2013 relating to the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012. Learning and Development Division (LDD) are responsible for monitoring this and once completed an agreed period of CPD is credited to legal staff involved.
4.47 During our benchmarking exercise we found that the CPS has a good practice whereby they issue a 'Law and Policy Digest' every two months. This is a summary of articles and 'must reads' from which staff can use hyper links to main documents, if they so wish. Once these documents have been read there is an automatic link to a questionnaire and on successful completion legal staff are credited with the relevant time period for CPD.
4.48 We were advised that LDD and Knowledge Bank staff are keen that other mediums of sharing information knowledge such as e-learning packages, DVDs, etc are made available on the Knowledge Bank. The intention is that as part of the upgrade of the internal website that hyperlinks will be added from relevant guidance to DVDs containing practical training. This should provide immediate training and financial benefits through reducing the need to travel to the Prosecution College.