The Devil’s in the Policies

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I am guilty of having an over-simplified view of right and wrong. I realize that this is who I am, so when a complicated issue arises that could lead to policy development or change, I know that my knee-jerk reaction should not be my final answer. I’ve come to this realization because policy decisions I’ve made in haste have come back to bite me in the…well, you know… 

After reading several posts this week on the NIRSA website that dealt with policy questions, I started thinking about the process that is involved with creating or changing policies. Here is what I try to do:

1. Explore your options.

Identify the problem, state the possible solutions, then list pros and cons for those solutions. Write it down! It’s important to try to see the issue from all viewpoints. Decisions shouldn’t be made on what is easiest for you, but what is best for all stakeholders. Look at your department’s mission and try to find solutions that would best fulfill that mission.

2. Talk to the devil.

My boss drives me up the wall with his constant “well, what about this…” and “what about that…” But he is the perfect person to help uncover potential problems with a policy. Colleagues and student workers are great resources to help you view problems from different angles. It’s helpful to find someone who can play a good devil’s advocate by drilling you with the tough questions you may get from patrons who could be negatively impacted by the policy. If you can’t answer the tough questions satisfactorily, then you need to change the policy.

3. Policy vs. Recommendation

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If you want to weigh in on an action or behavior that could potentially be detrimental, remember that policies must be enforceable. If you can’t consistently enforce a policy, then use “recommend” instead. For example, we received a call from a university health service doctor who said that he had treated two students within the period of a week who came in with eye injuries received while playing racquetball. We discussed creating a policy that would require eye protection to be worn at all times while playing racquetball. However, we knew that this policy would be impossible to enforce unless we posted an employee at the courts. Instead of making it a policy, we posted a sign on each racquetball court door stating “Protective eyewear strongly recommended and available at the front desk.” This communicated to our patrons that by playing racquetball, there could be a danger of eye injuries, and presented a solution to mitigate that danger. However, if we had a policy stating that eyewear was required, we could be held liable for injuries sustained if those injuries occurred because we were unable to enforce the policy. 

4. Re-evaluate on a regular basis.

Our facility is constantly changing. We add new equipment and take away old. We discover new technologies that allow us to do things we never could before. Industry standards are always evolving. Because change is the only constant thing, it is important to re-evaluate policies on a regular basis. For example, if a student forgot their school ID card, we used to require them to present a photo ID in order to access the facility. However, when we started using a new recreation software program to control access, we could type in their student number and their picture would come up on the computer screen. We had never had access to student photos before, so the policy that required students who forgot their ID to show a photo ID was unnecessary. We did away with the policy. However, it is important to be especially careful when considering making a policy more lenient. If you change a policy to allow patrons to do something that they haven’t been able to do in the past, and then find that the change was a mistake, the uproar that will occur when you again take away that privilege is far worse than if you’d never changed the policy at all. So be sure to talk to the devil before making the change!

What do you feel are important steps to take when creating policies?

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