Thursday, July 19, 2007

A new word to learn: over-policying

On today’s Business Daily on BBC World Service, there was reference to over-policying in the USA. Over-policying is having a policy for everything. Sounds familiar?

Anyone in the UK public sector and many outside will be conscious of over-policying – and often ground down by it. Sometimes it is a requirement of legislators and often regulators. With initiatives and fads, the canon of policy accumulates at an incredible rate.

I am a believer in the policy governance model developed by the American organisational guru John Carver. In this model, governance is largely about setting ends and determining certain prohibited means – with the title “policy” used sparingly to refer to these ends . (Probably best to read one of his books for a proper introduction!)

Too many organisations use the words “policy” and “procedure” interchangeably. And then give the board members or governors shed loads of paper at every meeting to give them the illusion of being “in control”.

Little time is spent on consolidating policies. Even less on making them consistent. (When I do work on governance with FE colleges it is usual for “whistle-blowing” policies to be inconsistent with - or even contradict – anti fraud policies.)

More generally, rather than delivering change and improvement, the focus is on writing new policies which will gain dust on the shelf.

Sometimes Orwellian technology is introduced to make sure staff read policies, sign-up and then get pass marks in a little test.

I probably sound cynical, but I’m not. Surely it doesn’t have to be this way?

While organisations cannot avoid the demands of legislators, funders and regulators, they can try to avoid over-policying. Instead of rushing to introduce a new policy, perhaps they could think first:

  1. Can this policy be integrated into an existing one? If so, consolidate them
  2. Is this policy consistent with an existing one? If so, make sure.
  3. Can this policy be made clear and concise? Of course, you can try.
  4. Is this really a policy at all? If not, call it a procedure or whatever, which management can adopt without bothering board members or governors.

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