Policy Overload

Policies; you can’t get away from them can you!  Take last week for instance.  On Monday I received an Email with some papers attached for me to read through in preparation for a meeting about a social services adoption panel.  One of the attachments was called, ominously, “new PPG” (Policies, Procedures and Guidance for those in the know).  I set my printer to work and the next thing I knew was that, after some 30- odd pages, my paper tray was empty.  I glanced at the bar on my PC which tells you how many more pages there are still to come and the figure was 100 plus!  At that point I gave up with the printer and just quickly scanned through the contents page; reading through that lot was more than I had bargained for. 

The following day, after the meeting (which, needless to say, went on rather a long time), I received another pile of papers, this time through the letterbox.  Fortunately, nobody was at home at the time but I imagine the package landed on the floor with such an almighty thud that reverberations would have been felt up and down the street.  Lifting the package carefully onto my desk on my return I opened it to discover- yet more policies!  This time the policies belonged to the school my children attend and a full set had been sent to me to “scrutinize” as part of my duties as a parent governor on the policy sub-committee.  I got as far as the Healthy Eating Policy before giving up in despair.  I happen to know that the biggest queue in the school cafeteria is for chips and burgers and the machine which dispenses chocolate bars makes a healthy contribution to the school’s overstretched budget. 

The committee meeting went on, as such meetings tend to do, in the usual desultory fashion.  Various people made various comments about various policies and they were all eventually adopted with various inconsequential amendments.  “Welcome to the brave new world of committee meetings and endless policies and procedures,” I thought to myself.  It was dark by now and when I finally managed to negotiate my weary way though the front porch into the hall, papers spilling out of my bulging briefcase, I felt something underfoot.  Switching on the light I saw it lying there on the floor proclaiming its subject in large bold type: “Violence against Staff Policy”.

By the end of the week, having also fielded a number of calls at work on policy matters, I was beginning to fervently wish that policies had never been invented. I worry sometimes about policies and procedures taking over and driving what we do in our work with people.  It seems to me that one of the ways the secular world responds to problems and conflicts between people is to devise ever more elaborate rules and regulations- as though there were a procedural or organisational answer to all these issues.  But policies and procedures, in themselves, don’t make peoples’ lives any better and Christians ought, in my opinion, to be more sceptical about the limited efficacy of law and policy. 

Of course, in the modern world we can’t do without policies and procedures and they do have their uses.  They are especially useful in protecting the weak against the oppression of the powerful and in clarifying the duties and responsibilities of professionals and organisations.  However, they are not very useful, in my opinion, for driving up standards and improving the quality of service to the public.  If workers ask themselves: “What am I obliged by law and policy to so in this situation?” they will tend to get an answer which is about doing the minimum, taking no risks and protecting the organisation.  Creative and compassionate professionalism is more likely to result from thinking about a question like: “How can I make a difference for the better in this person’s life?”  The most comprehensive policies and procedures in the world can never answer that question.

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