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- 01 Understanding governance
- 02 Culture and governance
- 03 Getting Started
- 04 Leadership
05 Governing the organisation
- 5.0 Governing the organisation
- 5.1 Roles, responsibilities and rights of a governing body
- 5.2 Accountability: what is it, to whom and how?
- 5.3 Decision making by the governing body
- 5.4 Governing finances and resources
- 5.5 Communicating
- 5.6 Future planning
- 5.7 Building capacity and confidence for governing bodies
- 5.8 Case Studies
- 06 Rules and policies
- 07 Management and staff
08 Disputes and complaints
- 8.0 Disputes and complaints
- 8.1 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous approaches
- 8.2 Core principles and skills for dispute and complaint resolution
- 8.3 Disputes and complaints about governance
- 8.4 Your members: Dealing with disputes and complaints
- 8.5 Organisations: dealing with internal disputes and complaints
- 8.6 Practical guidelines and approaches
- 8.7 Case Studies
- 09 Governance for nation rebuilding
- Governance Stories
- Useful links
- Preview new Toolkit
6.4 Policies for organisations
An organisation’s decisions should be based on its established policies.
Policies are the collective voice of the governing body. This means the decisions made by the governing body are policy decisions—they set the direction for the organisation to follow.
6.4.1 What are policies?
Definition: Policies are the big-picture guidelines that set out, in clear language, what an organisation wants to achieve (such as its long-term vision and goals) and the performance standards and outcomes expected.
They provide the overarching framework under which procedures are then designed to get those big-picture things done.
In any organisation, some policies specifically focus on governance; others address operational, administrative and HR matters.
But whatever the type, in all cases, the final policies must be formally approved by the governing body.
Only decisions made by the governing body as a whole are binding.
Put simply, the governing body develops policy and management implements it.
There are two broad types of policies: governance and operational
Governance policies are made by the governing body. They cover:
- the governing body’s accountabilities, attendance, codes of conduct, commitments, conflict of interest, decision making, governance values, leadership, roles and responsibilities, and a range of related cultural matters.
- They also include policies on the governing body’s relationship with the top manager and staff, its nation and community members, its financial commitments and its ethics.
Operational policies are usually drafted by the top manager to apply to the administration and daily management of the organisation. They include:
- policies on complaints procedures, diversity and harassment, employment, HR and managing staff.
- The top manager initially develops and oversees these policies, but the governing body will also be involved and finally approve them, often at its meetings when discussing communication with members, dispute resolution and cultural leave issues.
6.4.2 The benefits of governance policies
Decisions should be based on established policies. See above diagram.
Policies are the ‘bread and butter’ standards that help to ensure consistency and accountability.
- serve as a tool of governing control
- act as frameworks for future direction and strategy implementation
- set boundaries, constraints and limits on action
- reward and sanction behaviour
- indicate what staff can expect
- reduce the chance of inconsistent, unfair or erratic decision making
- enable reliable delegation of powers to management and staff.
If the governing body is not developing and enforcing policies, it is not doing its job for the organisation.
A well-developed governance framework (documented in a written policy manual) benefits the nation and community, as well as the organisation.
6.4.3 Your governance policies
The governing body has responsibility for developing a set of governance and leadership policies. These set out how it will conduct its business and oversee the proper operation of the organisation.
They should cover these areas: Planning, Leading, Organising and controlling.
Do you have all the policies, rules and procedures in place for your organisation to run well? Use this check-up to find out.
6.4.4 Making and reviewing policies
Policy-making is a skill that can be learned.
Organisations should include practical sessions in inductions and governance training for board members on how to make policies, and how to then work with their top manager to ensure the organisation follows those policies.
Policies need to be workable and fair, and easily understood.
While the governing body has responsibility for making and adopting policies, the policies won’t be supported if:
- community and staff members do not understand them
- they have not been consulted or had the chance to contribute to them
- the policies do not reflect broadly held values.
Every community and organisation has its own ways of developing policies and focuses on issues that matter most to them. But there are some common steps you can follow.
It is important to write down your policies and other rules and make sure copies are always accessible. It may also be useful to translate your rules into language and visual formats.
Every community and organisation has its own ways of developing governance policies, focusing on issues that matter most to them. But there are some common steps you can follow. These apply to policy-making in general, not just to governance policies.
A policy usually contains:
- A purpose statement. This outlines why the organisation is issuing the policy and what it should achieve.
- An applicability and scope statement. This describes who the policy affects and what will be affected by the policy. This statement may include or exclude certain people, organisations, behaviours or activities from the policy requirements.
- An effective date. This states when the policy begins.
- A policy statement. This sets out the specific guideline, regulation, requirement, or modification to people’s and organisational behaviour that the policy is trying to encourage.
- A review and evaluation statement. This explains when and how the policy will be assessed.
- A complaints statement. This sets out the process for how complaints about the content of the policy will be handled, its implementation or impact.
- A communications statement. This talks about how the policy will be communicated to staff, members, the wider community.
- A roles and responsibilities section. This states which people or sections of the organisation are responsible for carrying out particular parts.
- A definitions section. This provides clear meanings for terms and concepts.
- A cultural issues statement. Many Indigenous governance policies contain extra sections setting out cultural issues, goals, values and traditions that the policy recognises and is supporting, protecting, regulating or limiting.
To increase the effectiveness and legitimacy of policies, many Indigenous organisations are also including a cultural enforcement statement in their policies. This sets out practical processes and mechanisms that the governing body has identified as something that might help the governing body, management and staff to implement the policy in the face of challenging cultural pressures.
This policy template shows how all the information that needs to be contained in a policy can be set out. You can use and adapt it to create your own organisation’s policies.
Communities and organisations often change. That means governance policies and other rules sometimes need to be assessed, evaluated and changed to make sure they continue to be relevant.
Governing bodies should discuss the policy implications of their decisions at their meetings, and periodically review their written policies.
This allows policies to stay current and adapt to changes within the wider community and organisation.
A major policy review process should include wide consultation (especially with members and other people affected by it), giving everyone the chance to provide feedback.
6.4.5 Create a governance policy manual
When a footy player breaks a rule, there are referees and coaches to pull them up; they might even have to go before the tribunal and be punished. They can’t plead ignorance—all the rules and policies for how they play and train are written down in the game’s rule book and in their club’s policies.
It should be the same for your governance policies and rules.
They need to be written down and pulled together in one place—a governance policy manual—where everyone can get hold of them, read them and check them.
Your manual doesn’t need to be complicated or full of technical jargon.
It should be written in plain language so that people on the governing body—and in the nation, community, and organisation—can understand it.
A simple list of contents for a governance reference manual is provided below. It will give you some ideas of the kinds of policy areas to include in your governance policy manual.
This list of contents will give you an idea of the kinds of information you could include in a governance reference or induction manual for your leaders. Your community and nation will also be better informed about how you do things if they have access to it.
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