Policy Development Process

Life cycle diagram

As outlined in the Policy Life Cycle Diagram, the policy development process for university-wide policy is a continuous cycle from identification of a need for new policy to the periodic review, approval, and publication of new or revised policy. At times, review of existing policy will indicate that the policy should be retired or rescinded, in which case a policy will be removed from the policy library.  In keeping with the university’s commitment to transparency, collaboration, and shared decision-making, robust stakeholder engagement is expected to occur throughout the policy development, review, and revision processes.

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Policy Life Cycle Detail

1. Identify Need for a Policy or Revision to an Existing Policy

The need for new university-wide policy or revision to existing policy may arise for a number of reasons, including mandates from external governing bodies or concerns raised by members of the university community. A member of the university community may bring such concerns to the appropriate governance committee(s) or request that a responsible office or policy manager consider the perceived need for policy or policy revision. The policy library coordinator is available as a resource to help university community members identify the office or person best positioned to address a perceived need, as well as whether the need might already be covered in an existing policy.

To determine if a new policy or revision is needed, the following criteria should be considered:

  • The need or concern is not already covered by an existing policy (at the university or a higher level, such as UW System) or could not be effectively covered with a change to an existing policy. Where plausible, it is generally preferable to expand a relevant existing policy rather than to create a new policy.
  • The policy or change is necessary to ensure compliance with federal or state laws, rules, or regulations, as well as UW System policies or other legitimate authority.
  • The policy or change is necessary to support the university’s mission or goals and aligns with institutional values.
  • The policy will promote equity, consistency, efficiency, and effectiveness.
  • The policy will mitigate or manage significant institutional risk.

2. Draft and Edit the Policy

The policy manager for a specific university-wide policy is responsible for overseeing the process for revising that policy and carefully considering a variety of perspectives and feedback by conferring informally with colleagues or through formal consultation with governance or advisory groups. The policy manager adheres to the established format, layout, and defined terms for policy management. A best practice is to use the policy drafting template available on the policy library website.

3. Review/Revise/Retire a Policy

Substantive review of all existing university-wide policies should occur at regular intervals; an individual policy should be reviewed periodically to ensure currency with governing laws, rules, regulations, policies, and technologies. Review must be appropriate to the type and nature of the policy and sufficient to comply with governing laws, rules, and regulations. The responsible office and policy manager, in consultation with the policy library coordinator, shall set the appropriate review cycle for policies under their purview. The review process should invite relevant stakeholders (such as business users and others regularly affected by a policy) to participate in policy review.

Types of revisions:

  • Proposed modifications to policy, which are substantive revisions that affect the meaning of the policy or are otherwise material, follow the regular policy development and approval process.
  • Minor revisions, which do not alter the meaning of the policy (e.g., typo corrections, minor edits, changes to contact information, forms, procedural elements, or related information), may be made by the responsible office and/or policy manager and published after policy library coordinator review.

Retiring or rescinding a policy follows the relevant steps of the policy development and approval process, as does replacing the policy, where applicable.

Review, revision, and retirement actions should be noted in the history section of the policy. The policy library coordinator will archive any versions of policies that are revised or rescinded.

The policy manager is responsible for obtaining appropriate legal review in consultation with the vice chancellor for legal affairs. The policy manager is responsible for consulting with the policy library coordinator when unsure who should review draft policy.

4. Consult

Prior to final approval of a new or revised policy, it is expected that the policy manager will engage in robust conferral and consensus-building, including—where appropriate—consultation as part of shared governance referenced in Wisconsin statutes and Board of Regents policy. UW–Madison’s shared governance process affords multiple opportunities for inviting and receiving comments and feedback on draft policies from the university community. Groups and individuals who will be affected by a policy, including those who must comply with the policy, end-users, and those charged with implementation and compliance, should be informed of new and modified policies and have the opportunity to submit feedback during the development process. The policy manager can work with the policy library coordinator to make the draft policy available for review and comment and to help identify and communicate to key stakeholders to invite their participation in a designated comment period.

5. Approve the Policy

The final step is formal approval by the appropriate delegated approval authority. It is best practice for the approval authority to be one individual position. Other groups or individuals who have concurred may be noted separately. If a policy manager is unsure as to who is the approving authority for a given university-wide policy, they may consult with the policy library coordinator.

6. Publish and Communicate the Policy

All university-wide policies will be published by the policy library coordinator in a central location (the policy library) accessible by all members of the university community, including faculty, staff, students, and visitors.

The responsible office works with the policy library coordinator to create a dissemination plan for communicating to the university community about a new or revised policy and ensuring that relevant key users are specifically targeted with appropriate communications.

Units may, if they choose, curate web pages that include policies relevant to their unit’s functioning—for the convenience of their constituents; in such cases, the web pages should link the policies listed directly to the policies in the policy library. However, only policies published in the searchable policy library are considered official university-wide policies. Content published elsewhere (such as summary or interpretation of policies) is not considered university policy, regardless of intent or language.

Roles & Responsibilities

UW–Madison defines the following roles and responsibilities in the policy development process:

  • Policy Library Coordinator Position responsible for maintaining the policy library and for acting as a supportive collaborator to help shepherd a proposed policy through the development, review, and approval process. The coordinator serves as an impartial facilitator of the process and is responsible for implementing consistent standards across the university. The coordinator is responsible for notifying policy managers about policies that will be up for review, facilitating the review process as appropriate, and collaborating with stakeholders throughout the process.
  • Approval Authority – Position or office with the right to issue, approve, or enforce university-wide policy. Typically, this authority is granted by Wisconsin statute or by Board of Regents or UW System administrative policies and can be delegated to others by the relevant authority.
  • Policy Manager – Position (and by extension, the incumbent in a position) designated by the responsible office to fulfill its responsibilities for developing and administering university-wide policies within a relevant domain; administration of policy includes policy interpretation and enforcement, as well as related procedures, processes, instructions, forms, and revisions. Depending on the scope of the subject matter, a policy may have more than one policy manager.
  • Policy Contact(s) The policy contact(s) is (or are) generally the subject matter expert(s) designated by the responsible office to be the first point(s) of contact to answer policy questions and assist in policy interpretation.
  • Responsible Office – The unit responsible for developing, administering, and maintaining the policy, including accountability for policy accuracy and appropriate, timely review.

Types of Documents

Efficiency and effectiveness are enhanced when there is clarity about a variety of foundational documents that govern or guide behavior. UW–Madison defines fundamental documents as follows:

Policy – A general written document that establishes a standard by which the institution manages its affairs. This written statement mandates, specifies, or prohibits conduct that enhances the institution’s mission, ensures coordinated compliance with applicable laws and regulations, promotes operational efficiency, and/or reduces institutional risk.

Procedures – A description of the operational processes necessary to implement policy. Procedures include information on the offices and positions responsible for policy implementation, instructions to university constituents regarding how to affect the policy, where to turn for information, and the like. Some are referred to as “Standard Operating Procedures” or SOPs.

Guidelines – General non-mandatory recommendations that provide readers with helpful information about how to achieve a particular aim; these might include recommendations, administrative instructions, best practices guidance, or frameworks in which to operate.

Standards, Requirements, or Specifications Documents – Standards, requirements, or specifications establish specific mandatory measurements, usually for materials or processes, and are often driven by federal, state, or industry regulations, requirements, or standards. These are not generally considered policy.

In addition to these types of documents, there are bylaws, which detail an organization’s or body’s foundational rules for regulating itself, and rules, which sometimes appear similar to policies in that they prescribe behavior, though they are usually much narrower in scope and apply to very specific situations with fewer consequences for violations.

Expedited & Interim Policy

In situations when a new university-wide policy or revision is needed in a timeframe that does not allow for the usual review process described above, an approval authority may, at their discretion, issue policy without completing all or any of the aforementioned policy development steps. Such situations include, but are not limited to, changes to federal or state law, urgent needs for meeting accreditation or audit requirements, risk management, and emergency situations. In some (but not all) cases, an expedited policy development process will result in an interim policy that is effective for a defined time period, during which the policy manager will work with stakeholders to extend the time, make the policy permanent, or rescind the policy when no longer needed.