The idea of a living document might sound somewhat new-age. Still, the chances are that you already use living documents in your business.
However, your use of living documents is probably inefficient, and you might not even realize you are using them!
Let’s explore the concept of the living document and help you get more out of using them.
What is a living document?
You might see living documents go by another name, like dynamic or evergreen documents.
The principle behind these is simple. In most contexts, a living document is seen as a document that is continually edited and updated.
But this is not always the case, nor is it a definitive explanation of what a living document really is.
In a modern context, a living document contains data that can be used to trigger a new event, be self-executing, and be a part of a broader automation process. A good way to think about living documents in this context is to use PDFs as an example. In such a case, a PDF is a dead document. Sure, you might be able to edit it, but you cannot actually do anything with the data stored within it, you can just store the document. If you need to renew a PDF agreement, you need to create a new PDF. In contrast, when you use a living document you can cut out the hassle (and dreadful user experience associated with PDFs) and re-use the data as you need to, or as a process dictates.
Why would you want to continually edit and update a document, and why might you use existing data to do so?
- New laws and regulations may come into force.
- You may adopt new processes and workflows.
- You are negotiating the terms of a contract.
- New information and research come to light.
Practical examples of living documents
Any document can, theoretically at least, be a living document. However, not every document is a living document.
For example, a page in a book is not a living document – this would be known as a static or dead document.
Wikipedia pages and legal documents such as contracts are excellent practical examples of living documents.
How do living documents work?
The purpose and use of a living document will determine the specifics of how it works.
In many cases, a living document will start with what most of us would call the first draft. You may then choose to have a framework for making updates and changes. Whether you have a framework and what this looks like would again depend on how you want to work.
For example, you could have one person in your business be responsible for maintaining a living document. Yet, at the same time, everyone in your business could be encouraged to collaborate in the document's evolution. As a simple example, if you use Microsoft 365 for collaboration, you can use features like Track Changes and Comments to gather suggestions and then sign-off on the updates as you wish.
Document automation software also has a vital role to play in the use of living contracts. For example, automation software makes initial document creation easier. It may also help to keep collaboration slicker than having ten people adding suggestions and changes to a document all at once. In addition, if you are using contracts or other documents requiring adherence to regulations, software can help your document templates update automatically. Such a feature means you can continue to evolve a living document in collaboration with other parties to meet your needs while ensuring that non-negotiable elements, such as regulatory frameworks, remain in place.
How a living document evolves
You will probably already have some hands-on experience of how a living document evolves. For example, you might use the same contract template or loose structure for your clients today that you did ten years ago. Still, the details within the content may have dramatically changed.
Depending on the documents you are using, they could become longer, shorter, or evolve into something entirely different from the document you started with.
You may choose to keep the version history of a living document so you can track changes over time. This may be vital if you ever need to roll back to a previous version for whatever reason.
There is no right or wrong way to go about evolving your living documents. However, you might set an internal framework for periodic reviews on top of using software to ensure documents remain fit for purpose and can be deployed legally.
How to create a living document
In a business sense, living documents should always have a set of guidelines around modifications while also encouraging your team to contribute to how it evolves.
The best way to create a living document is to use software. And we mean something like Contractbook, not uploading a document written in Word to Dropbox or even using a shared Google Doc link!
This takes care of the document framework and ensures it is professional and legal while giving you the flexibility for it to evolve as you wish.
Remember, any document can be a living document. From internal policies to documentation that outlines your company's values and culture, and of course, external documents that govern your relationships with your clients, there is no reason why almost all the documents you use cannot be living documents.
Are you using living documents in your business?
The answer is probably yes, and perhaps without realizing it.
The challenge you face is to make sure you are capitalizing on their potential. If you are still gathering changes to documents via neverending email chains or trying to work your way through masses of Tracked Changes in a document, there is a better and more efficient way to get the job done.