Institutional Memory

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Institutional Memory is a set of experiences, history, and know-how of the organization that can be passed on from one set of people in the organization to their successors, with the hope that the organization learns from its past mistakes and does not repeat failures.

Best Practices

Though these best practices reference EngSoc Executives, they apply just as well to Directors/Commissioners/anyone else with a position of some sort.

  1. Hold transition meetings between incoming/outgoing Exec
  2. Have the outgoing executive member write a transition report (more on these below)
    • Have a "how-to" manual to explain tasks that don't change every year (i.e. include static content in the how-to manual and dynamic content in the transition report, so you don't have to re-write basic how-to's every year in your transition report)
  3. Have a physical archive, as well as an electronic one, of past Executives' files. A "physical archive" could take the form of a binder with an Executive member's most important correspondence/documents from the past year.
  4. Keep email correspondence properly organized, and have a dedicated student society inbox that can be passed down to the next person by passing on login credentials, so they have a record of past correspondence. It's easy to set up email on Google Apps. Do not forward student society to personal email addresses!
  5. Keep a list of personal email addresses of past Executives, in case they need to be contacted
  6. Outgoing Executives should stick around and be available to help out for a month or two after new Executives have taken on their roles.
  7. For positions involving large projects, have committees to support an Executive's work, so training and transition can happen throughout the year
  8. Meeting minutes are a last resort for institutional memory, because it is quite inefficient to look through hundreds of pages of minutes to find out what the organization did in a year
  9. Have a transition document or wiki for entire student society, that gets updated throughout the year with major developments relevant to the entire society, and tack on things every year. U of T is trying this with Skulepedia's year pages.

Transition Reports

Schools were asked at a teleconference, "What kinds of things do you write in transition reports? What are the most useful things?" Answers were:

  • Major issues and projects of the past and upcoming year
  • How-to's on the job's tasks (though this may be more suitable for a separate report, since it is mostly static content)
  • Lists of useful people and their contact info
  • Lists of past individuals to hold the position and their contact info
  • Timelines for the year
  • Budgets for events, conferences, projects, etc.
  • Goals that were unfinished due to time constraints; ideas for growth
  • Anything that caught the previous person off guard during their term, or threw them off (challenges faced)
  • Incidents, why they happened, and what could have been done to prevent them
  • A list of what did/didn’t happen and how it could have been done better/properly under the same or different circumstances


Each school was asked to identify what they believe are their best practices to preserve institutional memory.

School Responses

Carleton University

  1. Internal wiki that has all the meeting reports and minutes
  2. Executive members write thorough transition reports with timelines, check-lists, and expectations. Executives also do transitional meetings.
  3. Centralized data storage on an external hard-drive. All posters, reports, forms, letters, presentations....are stored based on year. We have data dating back to 2004-2005.
  4. Executives are elected in February-early March. Official transition isn't until May 1st. Allows 2 months of transition period.
  5. Google Apps email log-ins for all positions (executive, council, directors, etc.). This allows all old emails to be archived.

Conestoga College

  1. 4 month transition period, this is a result of our unique setup. Voting occurs mid-April, when all students are on campus but official changeover is at the end of August when third and fourth years are finished their on campus term.This transition is a long time but it also allows us to make sure the new execs are up to speed on all aspects of their job. Near the end of the four months new execs are expected to be fully established in their roles.
  2. Documentation on all activities of the previous term relevant to each position are kept available to new exec
  3. Contact Info for past exec is kept on file
  4. Past meeting minutes are available online

McMaster University

  1. Non-executive members do transition reports in writing
  2. Executive members do transition through meetings and a report
  3. Large Council, so continuation in a different role is common
  4. Mac Eng council has consistently believed in empowering people on committees and sub-committees, to do different tasks. This provides students with the knowledge and background they need to continue running the student society
  5. Mac Eng's structure empowers the Associate Vice President's to work very closely with both the Executive, and those leaders immediately under them. This provides a chance to pass on a lot of important information and experience.

Queen's University

  1. Transition reports are compiled and discussed with incoming executives. Including emphasis on upcoming issues or projects; full positional guides are edited each year by the outgoing director for preservation of previously started initiatives and previous outlook including content appropriate for the position
  2. Transition Dinner for incoming and outgoing director teams (budgeted for).
  3. Engineering Society General Manager is aware and has read previous exit reports from previous directors to preserve project memories. This is a permanent staff member employed for assistance in our business ventures and specifically long term memory.
  4. Minutes/emails/files are archived for easy referencing (currently 10 years of electronic files and hard copies).
  5. Transition period lasts between a couple weeks to two months depending on position allowing people to gain experience before taking on all responsibilities.

University of Guelph

  1. Transition reports are to be completed by each council member. This is something that is always tough to enforce, though.
  2. Outgoing and incoming council are encouraged to attend our “Transition Retreat” which is essentially a weekend in the summer (previously has been held at someone’s cottage or something of the like) where one-on-one transition meetings are held, as well as a chance for incoming council to discuss as a whole some of the direction for the upcoming year.
  3. Position binders are kept in our office from year to year, as well as filing cabinets full of documents - these are typically poorly maintained and rarely used.
  4. Meeting minutes from previous years are kept online.

University of Ontario Institute of Technology

  1. Each council member writes a Directional Document based on the policy manual. These essentially just rehash the Policy Manual and don’t offer too much assistance besides a timeline.
  2. VP External Handbook and Transition Report are there to make transition easier and so the incoming VP External does not feel like they are being thrown into the deep end.
  3. Outgoing and incoming exec are supposed to have a transition day.
  4. Starting two Alumni Director positions. These directors will be engineering alumni who have graduated and have served at least one term on UOIT EngSoc. They will be invited to meetings to give their input, but will not be able to vote.
  5. All past meeting minutes are posted on our website, as well as other social media sites we use, such as Scribd.

University of Toronto

  1. Transition reports (10-20 pages) for all Officer (Exec) and Director positions, with outlines of major issues of the past and upcoming year, how-to's on the job's tasks, lists of useful people, etc.
  2. All Officers/Directors entitled to one Transition Dinner (one per position, $15/person)
  3. Officers are expected to stick around for a month to assist the new team (after the new team is sworn in)
  4. Business Manager (full-time staff member, not a student) who works in the office offers commentary occasionally
  5. Common practice to keep all documents/records stored in one computer folder and then pass the folder on to the next person, as well as copy it to the EngSoc server
  6. Some exec keep a notebook of the year’s work, with records and commentary
  7. Each Exec member encouraged to print off important emails/documents/reports and put them in a binder in our EngSoc archives - easier than looking through computer files, which are also easy to lose track of
  8. Council, Board, and Officer meeting minutes are online - these are a very inefficient way to find out what happened in previous years

University of Waterloo

  1. Transition reports are to be completed by each executive member. We also have a resource document that is supposed to help in transition process.
  2. Outgoing and Incoming exec have transition meetings.
  3. Since we have Society A and B, only one society executive is elected at a time. This helps the incoming exec on one society because they always have the other societies executive that have been doing the job for at least 4 months.
  4. Meeting minutes from previous years are kept online.
  5. There are no directorship reports but we have directorship history online with past directors emails so the new directors can email them.

University of Western Ontario

  1. Non-Executive members do transition reports in writing
  2. Executive members have transition reports and have transition meetings
  3. Outgoing executive has over a month to transition the incoming executive
  4. Each executive, and a few commissioners, have filing cabinets in the office to keep old documents and reports
  5. All members are invited to an "IN/OUT" event to talk in an informal setting
  6. Western Engineering is a small faculty, so it's easy to get in touch with someone who held one's position previously
  7. Council meetings minutes are a last resort; old constitutions bylaws are available