Developing consistent policies across the entire city government

It’s important to develop and manage city-wide policies and procedures. Here's how you can create consistent local government policies and procedures.

December 29, 2020

Article highlights

Local government professionals have a lot on their plate. From drafting local government policies and procedures and leading staff to fostering cooperative relationships with civic-minded organizations and engaging the community.

The common thread? To gain support for a shared set of values and vision and to inspire others to work together to achieve a common purpose that betters the community. You do all this to create a healthier, prosperous, safer, and sustainable community. A tall order, for sure.

It all starts with clear direction in the local government policymaking process and a solid understanding of roles and responsibilities. But policy management is complex as the scope of government work varies so greatly.

What is the most important role of government? What are the key local government responsibilities? And how can you effectively manage local government policies and procedures both internally and externally?

It is not an easy or simple problem to solve. But one helpful approach involves making sure local government policies and procedures are consistent.

Here, consistency means using the same structure and format for all government policies and procedures, using the same file naming conventions, and following the same general requirements regardless of who created the policy.

Consistency also means adopting a systematic policymaking process and housing all local government policies and procedures in a central location.

The problem with siloed policies

Just like in many businesses, it is common for some local governments to manage policies separately in each department. But that presents several problems.

Onboarding new employees

First, it adds unnecessary time to the onboarding process to track down and corral all those existing (but scattered) city policies. Plus, it creates confusion for new government employees if different departments create their own policies that end up being inconsistent with the other departments’ policies.

Second, relying on “the old way” doesn’t work anymore. Many local government policies are stored in a printed, bound handbook tucked away in an HR office somewhere.

For decades, when new employees start on day one, they receive a handbook, sign it, and that’s it. But with the powerful technology available today, there is a better way to handle onboarding and government policies.


Hard to keep current

When your organization doesn’t use a systematic policymaking process and lacks a central location to store local government policies and procedures, it’s difficult to make changes to your key documents.

The result? Out-of-date, incorrect government policies and procedures.

This becomes even more important with the split between city-wide policies (HR policies like sexual harassment, code of conduct, and anti-discrimination), IT policies (like BYOD, acceptable use, and security policies) and department-specific policies.

Impossible to enforce

With outdated government policies, where’s the accountability? While maintaining current policies and procedures might be an obvious necessity for local police and fire departments, it’s just as much an issue for city hall and other government entities.

If your city policies are not current, how can you enforce them? And if you cannot enforce them, there is zero accountability. And with no accountability, your risk and liability skyrocket. It’s a negative spiral (but one you can prevent, as you’ll read below).

Here’s how it breaks down. If employees do not follow policies, and if those policies are inconsistent from one department to the next, it is virtually impossible to hold everyone to the same standards.

That’s not to say that every department needs to be run the same way or have the exact same policies. However, if there is no central process and system for policy management, it is hard for city leaders to act when an issue does occur.

Why consistent policies matter

So, what are the benefits of bringing all these local government policies together into a common process and system?


Local government offices have so much going on that employees just don’t have time to waste tracking down a copy of a policy or trying to determine which employees went through what training and when. Consistency reduces the chaos and disorganization that can occur over time. Simplicity turns into a huge time-saver when it comes to policy management.


When employees know what is expected of them, they are more likely to do what they are supposed to. They know that these city policies are in place for employees to follow, with the same standards and expectations for employees at every level of the organization.

Now, with consistency, these city policies are much easier to enforce, which boosts accountability. And with increased accountability, your risk and liability decrease. It is truly a cascading effect—but in a positive direction. This adherence to a consistent approach creates a well-run, more efficient local government.

Again, think back to the onboarding process. If new employees receive consistent, updated policies on day one, they embark on their career with your organization knowing the standards and expectations right from the start. As a preventive approach, this will reduce the mistakes, poor judgment, unethical behavior, and/or illegal incidents that might otherwise occur.


Public trust

The increased accountability from consistent city policies then spills over into the public trust. When your operation is run well, and the public consistently encounters the same level of professionalism and efficiency when dealing with government employees, this fosters trust.

Moreover, accountability and transparency go hand in hand. Local governments exist to serve their constituents—the people who live and work in the community.

Citizens have a right to know how local governments conduct public business and allocate taxpayer dollars. Governments have a duty to share this information with the people they serve, which is really where accountability begins.

Leveraging technology to improve policy consistency

Now that you are convinced about the need for (and the benefits of) a more consistent approach to local government policies and procedures, how can you bring this consistency to your policy management process?

Use workflows to manage edits and approvals

Simplicity turns into a huge time-saver when it comes to policy management, especially when you tap the power of technology. A cloud-based policy management tool like PowerDMS helps manage the lifecycle of a document from initiation to approval, improving workflows along the way.

For example, a good system to manage local government policies gives you the tools to automate the review and approval processes through repeatable, consistent workflows. This allows you to do more than simply track all of the changes – it allows you to leave comments, get notifications when something is waiting for your review, and receive accurate approval confirmation before proceeding to the next step.

Even better, you can use these steps over and over again, so you always know the right people have seen and signed off on the changes before they go live. This approach guarantees you never miss a step in managing your city policies.

Assign policies for employees to sign

This directly impacts accountability. When you distribute local government policies and procedures—and get employees to sign off on them—you are adding a layer of accountability to your organization. It is really difficult to do this (or accurately track it) if your city policies are stored in a filing cabinet somewhere.

As mentioned earlier, without consistency in policy management, there can be a wide variance in standards between local government departments. But consistency and accountability measures help departments meet goals and work together.

Plus, organizations that emphasize accountability can recognize problems and continually improve. Creating a culture of accountability improves employee morale, increases effectiveness, and protects against liability risks.

Of course, accountability in local government goes beyond boosting the efficiency of internal operations. Ultimately, government accountability aims to maintain the trust between government officials and citizens.

Store every policy in a single, secure location

Getting back to the idea of simplicity, storing all your local government policies and procedures in a central, secure location takes the chaos and disorganization out of policy management. Plus, it means employees don’t waste time searching for a specific policy or tracking down training records.

All the key documents and information everyone needs are at your fingertips with the click of a button. Whether you’re on the local government policy management side or you’re an employee trying to access key documents, this centralized location turns into a huge time-saver and boosts operational efficiency all around.

Make it easy to see what has changed

Take the guesswork out of local government policy revisions. Having a side-by-side comparison of versions makes it so much easier when you need to update policies. In the same vein, it helps employees see and understand what has changed from the previous policy version and how they need to proceed.

Attach training to policies

Of course, a solid policy management system should go beyond efficient processes and workflows. To truly be successful, you need to train to your policies.

A good policy management software offers built-in capabilities to provide employee training that ties directly to the specific policies behind the training. For example, distributing a sexual harassment policy is a good start.

But a short sexual harassment training to complement that policy is far more effective than just sending out a policy. This training should reinforce what the policy covers and include real-life scenarios and specific examples. Both local government policies and training work together.

When you start with clear direction in the local government policymaking process and a solid understanding of roles and responsibilities, consistency takes root across the entire organization.

Keep learning about policy and procedure management in local government.

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