Few words excite such apathy as ‘policy’. The word feels like it should be preceded by something to do with small print like ‘insurance’, or followed by ‘wonk’, neither of which sounds exactly sexy. It can feel like a slower, more bureaucratic version of 'strategy', and indeed the words often seem to be used fairly interchangeably, though for different effect. (‘I’m sorry but it doesn’t fit with our new policy’ being much more final than ‘It doesn’t seem strategic.’)
The dictionary definitions suggest why, both referring to a plan of action. Strategy, however, seems to be more related to specific goals (hence common uses of the word ‘strategic’) rather than general principles and standards. Policy should be enabling – a set of principals and ways of behaving that embody and deliver our values or aspirations in a particular area, be that customer care, employment or how we think about artforms. There is implicit in policy a setting down of the standards, codes and modes by which we will operate and can be held to account. As such, I think many people shy away from it, but I don’t think we need fear its 'rules' aspect. And it’s nearly always helpful in the long run to surface unwritten policies, so everyone knows what the score is – be that organisational or artistic. (I don’t think policy need be a bureaucrat’s word.)
It’s not a word I find myself using very often, if I’m honest. But my preferred usage is a set of statements that provide clarity about how I need to act to make the world how my organisation or I want it to become. Something that doesn’t let me be vague, or float off into the abstract - avoiding talking without saying something being one of my general policies.
(I was sparked to think about this by Andrew Taylor’s recent posting about the silence created by the word at a recent conference.)