Many of us are revising our organizational policies and processes in light of the revised Uniform Guidance. In doing so, ask yourself whether you are writing the policies correctly. A strong, useful policy is written with the user in mind and should be based on the KISS motto – Keep It Simple and Succinct. Policies should be written using simple, clear and concise language that avoids jargon and too much technical detail. The writer can lose the user quickly if the policy is written poorly. Assume your institutional users have a basic knowledge of the institution but a very limited understanding of the policy being written.
There are three main tenets for developing a robust compendium of useful policies and processes:
- Supporting forms/templates
Policy documents are not marketing pieces or creative writing. The documents should explain the overarching reason something must or must not be done. Keep organizational policies succinct and short, focusing the explanation on the process/procedure that enables the user to grasp the concept necessary to complete the required action.
Policies should include:
- Standard template across the institution with header
- Clear title, numbering, approval date, source of document providing primary guidance on the topic.
- Assignment of responsibility to a role
- For example, list the Vice Provost for Research rather than Dr. Jane Doe. This eliminates having to modify and update the policy every time the person in the designated role changes.
- Purpose of the policy
- Explain why the policy is being created and implemented.
- Detail the source of the guidance that requires implementation or updating.
- Actual policy
- Best practices suggest using the terms “must” or ”shall” rather than “should” or “may”. Otherwise a user could think compliance is optional. The statement should be brief and concise. This is augmented within the other sections.
- Contact information for more instructions
- Use a role title here to help maintain currency through staff turnover.
Example: The Sponsored Programs Office is responsible for the review, negotiation, and acceptance of all sponsored programs awards. This includes grants, cooperative agreements and contracts.
The associated processes/procedures explain the “how” and “what” regarding policy conformance. This is the guide to successfully complying with the policy. It should be much more detailed and may require supporting templates and/or forms. Procedures explain how the organizational policies will be implemented and followed. Performance of the steps listed is required, not optional.
Processes should include:
- A statement of who is authorized to complete the task. For example, a policy may state all awards are to be reviewed by and set up in the grant system by the Sponsored Programs Office staff.
- A documented process that details each task and how it is to be completed.
- Examples of tasks that detail the “how”, “what”, and “when”:
- The acceptance authority receives the award.
- It is transferred to the appropriate Grants Officer.
- The Grants Officer pulls the proposal and verifies the amount, PIs, Indirect Cost rate, and any other data that is necessary.
- The Officer then contacts the PI to communicate that the award has been received.
- The appropriate forms are completed (and possibly reviewed by a superior).
- A fund number is assigned following institutional protocol.
- The data is entered into the institution’s grant management software and financial system.
- The budget is entered.
- Billing is scheduled and the new number is added to other automated notifications in use.
- The PI is notified, along with other specified roles (Dean, Department Chair, campus newsletter office, news releases to community).
Organizational policies and procedures should be organized for easy access to the campus and to those responsible for performing the tasks. Policies may be organized by institutional unit or alphabetically by title depending upon published location. Some institutions choose to house focused policies in the responsible unit and broader institutional policies at a higher level. If you choose to publish on multiple sites, link the sites in order to update them all at once. This ensures all the locations are current and the modification process is efficient.
Supporting Forms, Flow Charts and Other Sample Documents
How forms and visual materials are presented is optional. Some institutions attach them at the end of the process, others integrate them into the specific process to provide a visual accompaniment. To prevent inexperienced users from entering invalid data (i.e. non-standard departmental title), drop down boxes are useful and help ensure consistency.
Assessing your policy, procedures, and sample documents against these three tenets and on a regular basis provides consistency for users and historical records. For help finding the right grant management software to support the development and implementation of your organizational policies, contact the IT Works team today.