Policies Don’t Do Work – A TTW Guest Post by Dr. Troy swanson

Many technology policies are created out of fear. They are created to protect the organization from its own members. They present a laundry list of illegal activities from copyright infringement, to libel, to harassment, to intellectual property theft, etc. They “protect” the library from lawbreakers and heart breakers.

Of course, policies have never done an hour’s worth of work…ever. Policies don’t do anything. People do things, and the best policies should offer guidance to the actions of organizational members. The goal of all policies should be to prevent problems before they occur, not act like “red light cameras” taking photos of you running a red ligth after the fact.

Policies that offer guidance should emphasize use. All policies will have gray areas, but when policies focus on use, they start to build a context for the organization. They should connect technology to the values and goals of the organization by defining ways the technology could be used.

So, how do we use policies to actually impact what we do? First and foremost, policies must arise from a collaborative process. Groups of people should work together to craft policies. This process should connect organizational values to the developing process. It should capture ideas, challenge organizational members to interact, and create meaning. Striving for true participation can be inefficient and even painful, but this is an important mechanism for making change through policy.

Once policies are in place, it takes leadership to not only keep them front and center, but to connect them to practice. There is a range of ways to do this. Leaders can bring staff together to workshop policies and run scenarios with staff to create shared meanings. Leaders can also highlight real-world successes by staff members who enact the policies. Social networking tools can be utilized to call attention to enacted policies highlighting success.

In any case, leaders must grant a degree of trust to organizational members. All situations are unique, and individuals must use their judgment to apply past practice and stated policy to a situation. Technology policies that focus on use, that have been developed collaboratively, and that are actively reviewed are policies that will offer guidance and actually impact decisions.

Troy A. Swanson is Teaching & Learning Librarian at Moraine Valley Community College. You can follow him on Twitter at @t_swanson.