The Art and Science of Policy Development

When someone starts to talk about policy, do your eyes roll back into your head with a feeling of dread, or do your ears perk up with thoughts of engaging in an in-depth, constructive discussion?

Researching, writing and debating policy may not be at the top of everyone’s list of favourite things to engage in, but it has an important role to play in our day to day lives. Policy is at the core of Canada’s social safety net, our tax system, the provision of public healthcare, maternity/paternity leave, traffic speed limits and the list goes on. Every level of government, business, non-profit or charity must deal with policy.

For many organizations, policy development takes a low priority and yet well-developed policy will serve any organization efficiently and effectively.

By its very nature, there are a variety of types of policy. There are the policies that are used internally by a business or organization. Salary structure, benefits, harassment and vacation leave are only a few of the policies that are required. Having strong policies in place – before they are needed – will ensure that when a question arises within an organization, there is a process in place to appropriately deal with it.

There are also many external policy debates that are required. Advocacy and political organizations in particular deal with these on a regular basis, in fact, it may be their raison d’être. For example, businesses may advocate for changes to policies regarding taxes, import/export regulations, minimum wage and the like. Further, there are a wide variety of think-tanks that focus on specific policy areas ranging from health-care, social policy, economics, defence and the list is almost endless.

Why do we have policies? While this is not an exclusive list, we need good policy for several reasons including:

  • To maintain consistency amongst all users;
  • To entice or move towards an intended behaviour;
  • To protect individuals from “bad behaviour”;
  • Provide the foundation for the procedures or regulations that we often need/use for the enacting or enforcing of the policy or laws.

Policy Development – One Approach
There is no single formula to developing strong policy. There are different approaches to drafting HR versus law enforcement policy, political versus environmental policy and so on. Here are some of the steps that I’ve used successfully:

  1. Concept – what are we trying to achieve and what are the parameters? Using this as an internal guideline helps to frame the issue.
  2. Internal Communication – it’s important that we commit to listening, clarifying and confirming what we are trying to achieve. Dialogue with the stakeholder groups and individuals will ensure that the problem and potential policy solutions are understood.
  3. Drafting – perfection will rarely be found on the first attempt. The work must be reconfirmed, tested and eventually finalized.
  4. External Communication – how do we explain the proposed policy to our stakeholders, whether they are members of the public, a union group, employees or charity.

Before the actual drafting of policy a few of the factors that need to be considered include:

  • Ideology – even non-political groups have an ideology. Whether a charity or SME or some other type of organization, they all have an internal ideology that sets the tone of their organization.
  • Taxes or Subsidies – does the organization receive or is it able to impose a tax on their user group. This user group may be the general public or limited to members such as a union. Or in the reverse, does the organization receive funds in the form of grants, taxes or other forms of fees.
  • Environment – is there a physical environmental impact or outcome that needs to be considered?
  • Milieu – what is the setting of the organization and the policy that is being considered? Will this set standards for other organizations? Is the policy consistent with the other policies of the organization?

There will be other factors that will need to be reviewed. Some will be unique to the organization and others will be dependent upon the impact that the policy is attempting to make. There will be a uniqueness in almost each situation.

In the actual drafting of policy, there are several considerations to take into account. Not all of these factors will come into play for all policies, depending upon the nature of the policy intent:

  • Physical Environment – are there physical limitations that the policy must incorporate such as geographic boundaries or a specific pollutant;
  • Social Environment – will this policy only apply to certain sectors such as seniors or young children, or those afflicted with a particular disease;
  • Financial – does the policy have implications on personal or corporate tax rates or is it a political decision to reward or subsidize one of these groups due to business or other factors;
  • Political Capital – will it cost the implementer hard earned political capital to implement, change or eliminate old policy with the new policy;
  • Risk – what is the risk of implementing or not implementing with regard to cost, employees/voters, environment, physical and mental health;
  • Public/citizen/staff attitudes – will this policy be difficult to implement? Will it have significant push back and is it still worthwhile;
  • Other – are there other unique factors that should be taken into account such?

Is that it?
Having drafted the policy does not make the process complete. A number of questions should be asked throughout the drafting and evaluation process:

  • Does the draft policy make sense?
  • Does it fit with the original parameters?
  • Has it been tested?
  • Is it achievable?
  • Is this where you want to be?
  • Should it include a sunset clause for future evaluation?

Writing and implementing policy is not a “fill in the blank” process. Each situation will be unique and will require the input of experts as the drafting process is completed. When policy is out of step or no longer relevant changes need to be implemented.

When charities, businesses, political and other organizations have good relevant policy in place, the organizations itself is more relevant. Out of date policy reflects poorly on an organization.

If you or your organization would like to discuss this issue further with Osborne Interim Management, please get in touch.

Dave Quist, MPA

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