The task of developing a policy for an organization can be time-consuming and require focus. However, the ultimate objective is not simply to articulate a statement of what needs to happen. The objective of an organizational policy is to affect employee practice. The way in which a policy is developed can make the transfer of a good idea into practice easier or more difficult.
1. The person facilitating the workgroup should conduct preliminary research to determine the issues that are likely to arise in the development of the policy. This may involve conferring with other staff; consulting with staff of similar organizations; conducting a literature search; identifying all applicable laws, rules and standards of accrediting or certifying bodies; and examining how current practice compares to the policy initially envisioned. Other staff in relevant areas can assist in the work, but the workgroup facilitator is ultimately responsible for validating, understanding, and being able to articulate the findings. In this process, you will likely encounter previously unforeseen issues and interests that will need to be included the development of the policy.
2. Carefully select who will be involved in developing the policy. It is very helpful to have individuals who will be directly affected by the policy on the workgroup as well as people representative of the issues and interests you identified in your preliminary research. Commonly in health and human services, interests include patients/clients, family members, and advocates, private and public providers, as well as professional organizations. If the policy has legal implications, an attorney may be invited to participate as well, or the workgroup may request a special session with an attorney to discuss specific legal issues. The workgroup should be large enough to fairly represent all known interests, but not so large that it is difficult to make progress. If a large workgroup is absolutely necessary, considering creating subgroups to address specific issues that they will then present to the larger group.
3. Ask the development group to brainstorm any constraints that may affect putting the policy into practice and best ways to ensure that the policy will be put into practice. These constraints may include short timelines, lack of resources for in-person training, a highly unpopular policy, or similar real-world considerations. These factors need to be taken into account as early as possible in the policy development process. These factors can affect how the policy is developed as well as other activities that need to occur at the same time that the policy is being developed, e.g., creation of an online training module, webinar, or similar broad-based outreach effort.
4. ‘Reality test’ the policy by inviting people who will be affected by it to review and comment on it. Be sure to describe and invite comment on how the policy will be put into practice, including any proposed timelines, training (in person or online), and other activities that will be used to ‘roll out’ the policy. In reality, this step in the process is the first phase of rolling the policy out. Depending on the issue and interest in the topic, responses to this request for comment can be helpful in shaping how the policy will be implemented. By requesting the participation of the people who will be required to follow the policy, you are both alerting them to an impending change in the way they do their jobs and you are respecting their experiences and opinions.
5. When the final policy is distributed, it is important to include a summary of the comments received and the development workgroup’s response to them. In general, it is better to present the comments as issues, making sure to de-identify individual commenters. At the same time, announce any follow-up activities that will enhance people’s understanding of the policy. It is vital to get the visible and prominent support of the organization’s key leadership at this stage in the process in order to ensure maximum participation, understanding, and implementation.
Linda Logan, MPAff, is president of Logan Consulting, Inc. She coordinated rulemaking and directed policy development for the Texas state mental health authority for more than 20 years following her work at the National Institutes of Health as a writer-editor and public information specialist.