Introduction to policy

What is a policy?

A policy is a set of statements of principles, values and intent that outlines expectations and provides a basis for consistent decision-making and resource allocation in respect to a specific issue.

Policies are one of the chief tools of governance for an institution. Museums have long relied on them for acquisitions, collections, loans, de-accessions, personnel and other areas that require institutional oversight.

How do policies provide governance?

  • They articulate institutional respect and responsibility about a particular issue.
  • They protect institutions from accusations of wrongdoing and allow them to address issues before disputes arise.
  • They inform staff of institutional do's and don'ts.
  • They hold institutions accountable and set a high standard for an institution to follow.
  • They enable institutions to manage relationships that will enhance the institution's role and perception, as well as its productivity.
  • And they allow institutions to craft practical mechanisms that address issues that the law does not address.

As a high level articulation of principles, a policy focuses on general statements, not details.

A good policy is:

  • clearly written
  • inclusive and holistic in its approach to the topic it addresses
  • acknowledges institutional culture and values
  • and technology-independent.

A policy can be easily followed by everyone in an institution and is revised and updated periodically to accommodate changes in institutional philosophy, mission, or newly emerging issues.

Although the elements included in a policy will vary depending upon the needs of an institution, sound policy will always include the following components:

  • Statements about what is allowed and disallowed
  • Statements about how the institution will ensure policy is being followed (monitoring)
  • Identification of the consequences for failing to follow the policy (enforcement)
  • Links to other relevant policies
  • Links to procedures and practice

The Nova Scotia Museum website contains an example of a museum policy.

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This resource was published by the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN). For comments or questions regarding this content, please contact CHIN directly. To find other online resources for museum professionals, visit the CHIN homepage or the Museology and conservation topic page on Canada.ca.

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