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  Alternatives Pty Ltd
  ABN 23 050 334 435

Points Covered

1. What is Policy?

2. Why have policy?

3. Policy in a changing context.

4. What can policy
documents look like?

5. Practical aspects of keeping policy

6. Policy debate and development

7. Criteria for good policy

Contents | 1. Introduction | 2.Steps | 3.Table of contents | 4. Formats and examples | 5. Resources

1. Introduction

1. What is Policy?

When a group of people working in the human services area are asked What is policy? they will typically reply with a range of responses such as: policy is rules or guidelines; policy is the organisations principles; policy sets out the way that things are done; policy creates a framework for the way you do your work; policy sets the standards for the organisation; policy arises from best practice.

The many approaches to answering the question what is policy suggests that the word is used in many different ways. There is not one answer to the question what is policy. Different writers use the word in different ways.

A multidimensional term

In practice in human service organisations it is useful to think of policy as having a range of elements all of which are part of the answer to the question what is policy but any one or more of which may be getting emphasis when the word policy is used in particular situations.

These elements of policy include:

Policy creates a framework for action (within your organisation)
Policy is a decision
Policy is grounded in legitimate authority
Policy is a written product
Policy is in the hearts and minds of people (it needs to be known to be acted on).
Policy creation is an ongoing process
Policy is a wider framework within which your organisation operate (awards, legislation, Government policy etc).

Some people talk about policy meaning a policy and procedures manual. Others talk about policy meaning the implicit framework that guides our day to day actions on the job. Others emphasise that policy is made by Boards or other legitimate authorities within an organisation. Some people want to distinguish between policies and procedures. Others point out that a procedure for one person may be another person's policy.

An Umbrella Term

Some people use the word "policy" as an umbrella concept that covers mission, philosophy, goals, etc as all these provide a framework for action.

Others use the term in a narrower sense, eg, some people would exclude mission and philosophy.

Contrasting Policy and Procedures

Some people use the term policy to contrast policy and procedures. Whether something is a policy or a procedure can often depend on your point of view, eg. Is "Our organisation is a smoke free workplace" a policy, or a procedure of a broader policy of "All staff have a right to a safe and healthy working environment"?

Different policy words for different levels of sanction

We use different words for policies that have different levels of sanction, eg,

E.g. Law..............regulations...............rules..............guidelines..........

When policy is drafted it is important to make explicit the basis of the policy and/or the level of sanction.

2. Why have policy.

Some of the reasons we have policy are:

  • So people working in an organisation can have a framework for action that helps them get on with the job they need to do.
  • So people in the organisation don't have to keep on discussing and re-discussing the same issues every time the arise - one thought out decision can be applied to many similar cases - efficiency.
  • So legal and other requirements can be met.
  • A tool in quality improvement
  • To comply with accreditation standards

3. Policy in a Changing Context

We are part of a changing social context. The way the 'best' policy is written is changing with changes in the social context.

Some of the changes in organisational thinking are changes in the way we maintain and improve quality. We have moved through:

  • Inspection to
  • Quality control to
  • Quality assurance to
  • Total Quality Management (or one of its variants) to
  • Best practice

Some of the changes in the political context are from

  • Governments role changing from rowing to steering
  • Governments role changing from funding to purchasing services

There are also legislative changes, for example:

  • Occupational health and safety
  • Taxation
  • Industrial relations.

In recent years there has also been greater emphasis on accountability and counting and measuring outputs and outcomes.

There have been growth in the development of standards and accreditation processes. For example, Nursing Home standards and accreditation; Supported Accommodation Assistance Program standards; child care standards; Substitute Care Services standards.

There has been growth in litigation.

These and other changes impact on what is considered 'best policy practice' and the dilemmas that those drafting policy can find themselves in. For example, policy may have to be written to meet accreditation criteria as well as be useful to workers and management Committee members.

4. What does Policy look like?

Policy and organisational manuals and policies have many forms.

What is included in particular organisational manuals is often related to the size of the organisation.

In a small organisation (eg, Board of Management and less than 10 staff) an Organisational Manual of less than 80 pages could include most of the significant policies the organisation may need .

In a large organisation such as a Government Department there may be a series of "organisational manuals" that could include:

Corporate Plan
Strategic Plan
Services Plan
Service Policies & Procedures
Human Resource Policies & Procedures
Administration Policies & Procedures

The last four of these could run to hundreds (or even thousands) of pages each. There could also be several client booklets.

5. Practical aspects of keeping policy

Some of the practical issues to be considered in keeping policy are:

  • Being able to identify all current policy
  • Being able to ensure all staff and Board/Management committee members have read (and where appropriate been trained in) the current policies relevant to them
  • Integrating the policy and organisational manual, the staff handbook and client handbook where appropriate
  • Being able to identify when policies need to be reviewed

The systems to archive this will vary from one organisation to another but may include: staff signing off after they have read current polices; version dates and numbers on all policy; keeping all current policy an an intranet/internet site so everyone has access to the latest policy.

6. Policy debate and development

Organisations often participate in public policy debate and development of public policy. Organisations often review existing policies. Some questions it may be useful to ask in analysing policy are:

1. What is the policy and what is the background behind the policy?
2. What problem was the policy trying to solve?
3. On what values is the policy based?
4. What processes were used in developing the policy?
5. Who was consulted in the process of developing the policy?
6. Who is the legitimate authority making the policy?
7. Who benefits from the policy (in theory)?
8. Who is disadvantaged by the policy (in theory)?
9. How will the policy be implemented?
10. Who are the winners and losers in practice when the policy is implemented?
11. How will the relevant people find out about the policy?

7. Criteria for good policy

Criteria for good policy include:

  • Is it client focused?
  • Will it be useful for the intended users, eg, service users, staff and Management/committee members?
  • Does it include policies on all areas relevant for accreditation and legislative requirements?
  • Will it improve the likelihood the service is a quality service?
  • Is it easy to find and access?
  • Does it inspire the reader?