There are six major tasks in implementing a robust policy framework. These constitute what may be called a policy cycle. The steps generally reflect the order in which the work is done, but as work is done under one task, it may well require further refinement or adjustments to prior or subsequent tasks.
Identify and Clarify the Types of Mechanisms that will be Included in an Agency’s Policy Framework
This requires defining the purpose, rationale and relationships among the mechanisms starting with state enabling legislation and federal obligations. As outlined above, agencies need to determine what types of policy prescriptions should be promulgated through statute or regulation; what policy will be set administratively by agency leaders, what is covered under procedures and when and how guidance is issued and used. Child welfare may be subject to the process used under an umbrella agency, but at a minimum, needs to challenge mechanisms that are not clear, consistent or useful.
Identify the Policy Making Process for Each of the Mechanisms
This includes determining how rigorous the process will be for each mechanism, the timeline for each, the nature and extent of input into the process, decision-making criteria, etc. For example, regulation/rules are generally governed by a state’s administrative rule-making which have the most stringent requirements of time, input, etc. Administrative policy can be formulated and approved with more or less structure and rigor. Directives can be issued in response to field questions or with greater understanding of the impact of a particular rule.
Decision-making and adoption will be different for different policy mechanisms (e.g. regulations, administrative directives, procedures). In all cases, the criteria for decision-making need to be spelled out, the process and timing of adoption noted and communication strategies developed.
Each mechanism in the policy framework needs it own specific format that covers at least the following items: purpose statement, legal basis, background and rationale; related policies and links; applicability and scope; effective date; roles, responsibilities, obligations of all parties with positive and negative consequences as appropriate; budgetary implications, evaluation criteria and review date.
Implementation will require the same systematic process used in initiating any change or innovation. It will include communication (including the use of intranet) training, modeling, reinforcing and evaluating through the organization’s performance management system.
There needs to be a deliberate, timely and consistent methodology to evaluate the effectiveness of new policy that includes data collection and structured feedback from staff, stakeholders and, as appropriate, children, youth and families. The level of data analysis will generally be rigorous and include various reporting formats and timeframes (e.g., longitudinal, rolling averages, cohort data, etc.)