Mennonite Church USA Data Policy Committee, 2001
It was at the General Assembly at Nashville, Tennessee, that the delegates received a report and proposal for the "formation of a committee of representatives from church agencies to recommend data policies for Mennonite Church USA." (Delegate Workbook, pages 130-33)
This data policy committee has met at least several times since 2001, and it includes the executive board, publishing network, education agency, mission network and mutual aid, as well as guests from Mennonite.net. Its focus has been on identifying the databases used by the different groups such as Mennonite Directory, Youth Census, a congregational database. Each agency also has many other computer programs to run various aspects of their church program.
The Data Policy Committee has talked a little bit about "record retention". At present the agencies use the period of time set by their financial auditors to retain and destroy electronic records. The 2001 report gives guidance to this work under the section "archiving electronic materials":
The guidelines recommend that MC USA agencies maintain a list of designated positions with archiving responsibilities and outline the type of email, web-based information, databases and files to be stored electronically and in preferred formats.
The Archives of the Mennonite Church (Goshen and North Newton) are working to provide electronic as well as traditional forms for archiving materials.
The full text of this Nashville 2001 "Data Policy Proposal Synopsis" is included below.
[Excerpt from Tools for Records Management, Historical Committee, 2004, page 17-18]
[Full text fromMennonite Church USA's Delegate Workbook, Nashville 2001, pages 130-133]
Data Policy Proposal Synopsis
The Transformation Team authorized the formation of a committee or representatives from church agencies to recommend data policies for Mennonite Church USA. This proposal includes recommendations to:
Members of the TT Data Policy Committee included broad representation from GC and MC agencies. Much of the work of the committee was done in four subcommittees – privacy and security; churchwide congregational database (Mennonite Directory); churchwide member database; and electronic archiving.
Recommendation 1: To establish a churchwide Data Policy Committee under MC USA Executive Board with responsibility for implementing and overseeing data policies.
Information technology standards
The committee conducted an information technology survey with MC/GC agencies and colleges, as well as some conferences and inter-Mennonite agencies.
One purpose of the survey was to give the committee background for recommending standards for use by MC USA agencies. Standards will increase the ease of communication between offices and agencies. These preferred (but not mandated) standards are recommended:
Windows network. Almost all organizations already use a Windows network. Most organizations use PCs for administrative work.
Microsoft Word and Word Perfect. Microsoft Word is the predominant word processing program but Word Perfect also has significant use. We recommend supporting both systems and giving staff the capability of easily "translating" between the two.
Excel. Excel is the preferred spreadsheet program among users.
Access. Among database programs, Access is used by the most agencies.
Raiser’s Edge. Mennonite Board of Missions, the GCMC and AMBS currently use this development software.
Virus protection program. The committee strongly recommends that all agencies use an anti-virus program but no particular program is recommended.
Recommending standards will help agencies and conferences over time choose programs that are compatible with other MC USA agencies. For smaller conferences, some of these programs may not be economically efficient to incorporate immediately.
Recommendation 2: To adopt the preferred information technology standards listed above for use in MC USA agencies.
Privacy and security guidelines
The growing ease of exchanging electronic information is increasing concern about privacy and security. A subcommittee reviewed these issues from a legal/ethical perspective and proposed guidelines for privacy, security and storage of information for MC USA.
Confidentiality of individual information is a foundational concept. MC USA agencies should adopt privacy policies that state how they collect, use and protect data, and the choices they offer individuals to exercise rights in their personal information. Agencies should limit access to their databases to those staff who need to know.
As a churchwide member database is developed, church members will have the right to choose not to have information about them shared with others. For persons with public roles in Mennonite Church USA, personal identification and biographical information is considered part of the price of participation (e.g., ordained persons listed in Ministerial Leadership database).
Recommendation 3: To ask the future MC USA Data Policy Committee to review and adopt privacy and security guidelines.
Churchwide congregational database (Mennonite Directory)
The Mennonite Directory will continue to provide Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada with congregational, conference and churchwide information. The Mennonite Publishing House is the authorized agent of MC USA for maintaining this information. A bi-national publishers group will give direction and leadership to the Mennonite Directory.
The committee conducted phone consultations with representatives of 10 area conferences for their counsel on future development of the Mennonite Directory. While there are many opinions about how information is collected and shared, all agree that the directory is an indispensable church resource. Recommendations include:
A system is now being proposed that would give conferences access to congregational data of member churches as needed in their ministries. Full information is also available to churchwide MC USA agencies but not to other Mennonite-related or Christian organizations without prior approval of conferences.
The committee reviewed a proposed Mennonite Directory Data Access Policy for Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada. The proposal gives the MC USA Executive Board and MC Canada General Board together the responsibility for determining policies that govern data collection, maintenance and distribution.
A Ministerial Leadership database of licensed and ordained persons is separately maintained in the Newton office. While there is some duplication in systems, the Ministerial Leadership database provides a more permanent, official record of credentialed persons for conference and churchwide work, while the Mennonite Directory includes non-ordained persons involved in congregational ministry. For reasons of cost, confidentiality and training, the committee recommends that the Ministerial Leadership database remain separate from the Mennonite Directory until there is a compelling reason to change this arrangement.
Recommendation 4: To approve Mennonite Directory data access policies for the collection and administration of churchwide, conference and congregational data in Mennonite Church USA; to affirm the continuing collaborative but separate Mennonite Directory and Ministerial Leadership databases.
Churchwide member database
The development of a churchwide member database can help keep members connected to Mennonite Church USA area conference and churchwide ministries. Members can be kept better informed about churchwide activities, opportunities within the denomination, and services offered by conference and churchwide agencies. Greater cohesiveness and identity can be encouraged by direct conference and churchwide contact with congregational members.
This proposal recommends that conferences and churchwide agencies coordinate their work and collaborate in collecting and sharing member information. A proposed Policy for the Sharing of Personal Information establishes three categories of personal information:
Personal identification information (e.g. name, address, telephone, email, congregation)
Personal biographical information (e.g. marital status, race, gender, birth date, education)
Personal record information (e.g. social security number and medical and financial records)
Five categories of groups include Mennonite Church USA agencies; MC USA conferences; MC USA congregations: MC USA-related organizations with official representative from the MC USA Executive Board; and other groups not included in these four categories.
The policy proposes that personal record information is never shared. Personal identification information and personal biographical information is available to the first three groups – MC USA agencies, conferences and congregations. These two categories of information are available to MC USA-related groups with permission from a leadership group. Personal information is available to other groups with the approval of area conference leaders.
The MC USA Executive Board will give oversight for the development of a data clearinghouse by churchwide agencies that choose to participate. Rather than creating a comprehensive central database that would be costly to start up, the clearinghouse concept allows movement toward a central database outcome by proposing the sharing of information as changes are made in each agency’s information.
A designated clearinghouse (e.g., MMA or Mennonite.net) would receive and share information with each participating agency. For example, a member family changing their address with one agency could choose to have this information shared with other agencies through the clearinghouse. Over time, this clearinghouse of information could develop into a churchwide database.
Recommendation 5: To implement the Policy for Sharing Personal Information and to authorize MC USA agencies to work together to develop a full proposal for implementing a clearinghouse for sharing churchwide member information.
Archiving electronic materials
As agencies become more reliant on computers and electronic forms of communication, an increasing percentage of work is stored only or primarily electronically. None of the MC USA agencies has yet developed guidelines for storing and archiving electronic files. To avoid losing valuable institutional information and historical records, archival policies for electronic information should be established for Mennonite Church USA.
Guidelines for archiving electronic materials for Mennonite Church USA organizations have been proposed. While centralized storage of electronic archival information is a desirable goal, systems are not yet in place, and paper continues to be the preferred archival medium for most agencies. Policies will continue to evolve as electronic archival options become more familiar. Recommended policies should be regularly reviewed by a data policy committee.
The guidelines recommend that MC USA agencies maintain a list of designated positions with archiving responsibilities and outline the type of email, web-based information, databases and files to be stored electronically and in preferred formats. The Archives of the Mennonite Church (Goshen and North Newton) are working to provide electronic as well as traditional forms for archiving material.
The committee recommends that current and future agencies adapt these guidelines for their own use and provide information technology training for electronic archival storage.
Recommendation 6: To refer training, implementation and review of guidelines for archiving electronic materials to the future data policy committee.
Comments of the Executive Director designate
Data gathering and retention is becoming a crucial issue. Technology can help us determine the proper focus of ministry efforts and increase communication, which builds oneness across the church. This will require a collaborative effort, with someone at the center identifying priorities and promoting consolidation of information.
Executive Board Action (April 2001)
Proposal was accepted as consent agenda. No action.
Typed into Computer June 23, 2005, Cathy Hochstetler
To make available for Web Page of the Historical Committee
File" Electronic Data Policy Committee Report 2001 Typed.doc"
Mennonite Church USA Archives-Goshen, 1700 S. Main St., Goshen, Indiana 46526