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Systems Alliance Blog

Opinion, advice and commentary on IT and business issues from SAI
Keyword: policy

It’s been over a year since the death of Freddie Gray in police custody sparked outrage and several days of riots in Baltimore. On May 23rd a verdict in the trial of Officer Edward Nero, one of a group of Baltimore police officers implicated in Gray’s death, was announced. That verdict was not guilty on all counts. But more interesting than the verdict was the judge’s explanation for his not guilty ruling.

One of the key questions was – did Officer Nero follow proper procedures during the arrest of Freddie Gray? That question centered on whether or not this police officer acted properly in helping to place Gray in the police van where he later sustained fatal injuries. The prosecution’s case against Nero was largely based on the fact that the Baltimore Police Department recently enacted a policy that arrested individuals must be seat belted when transported in a police van. Freddie Gray was not secured with a seat belt, which was considered a critical contributing factor to his injuries, and ultimately his death. This new policy was enacted shortly before Gray’s death and Baltimore Police Officers were notified via email.

At this point in the story, the facts ended and the questions began. Had Officer Nero read the email detailing the change in policy requiring suspects to be seat belted? Was he aware of the procedure for properly seat belting a suspect in a police van? The defense argued that Officer Nero had not checked his email and was not aware of the policy change or of procedures to seat belt suspects in police vans. The prosecution’s challenge was that the Baltimore Police Department did not have a process in place to verify that Officers read or understood policy changes. It was also apparently common for Officers to not check their email regularly. Bottom line, the prosecution could not prove that Officer Nero was aware of the change in policy requiring suspects to be secured with a seat belt. This fact was a key reason the judge cited in his not guilty verdict. Since the prosecution could not prove Officer Nero was aware of the seat belt policy, the judge ruled his actions were reasonable, not negligent or criminal.

That’s a profound sequence of events – gaps in effective process and a lack of audit trail for policy and procedure communication becoming critical factors in a high-profile, politically-charged criminal trial. To avoid a repeat of the process gaps surrounding the Freddie Gray case, the Baltimore Police Department has since implemented a technology solution to ensure that policy and procedure changes are distributed to Officers and an audit trail is maintained as Officers read and acknowledge that content. While technology is no panacea for a flawed process, it is an important component of creating an effective process.

Not a Unique Challenge

While this example of gaps in policy and procedure communication focuses on police, we see similar issues in other industries as well; healthcare is a great example. Just like the police officers who rarely checked their email, the same is fairly common among clinical staff in healthcare environments. These individuals – doctors, nurses, physician’s assistants – are not spending their day at a desk in front of a computer. So getting their attention via email is a challenge and acknowledgement of policy and procedure changes is often haphazard in these settings.  We’re actively working with organizations in the healthcare space to help address some of these challenges.

The Lesson

Whether the environment is a police department, a hospital, a manufacturing facility or even a restaurant, ensuring that critical policy, procedure and training information is distributed to staff, and an audit trail of their acknowledgement is recorded, are critical factors to minimizing risk and legal exposure. The first key component is having an effective business process in place to ensure that relevant content is accurate and up-to-date. Next staff must be educated on why understanding and following these policies, procedures, guidelines, and work instructions are critical to their own, and their organization’s success. Then we have to make it easy for them to comply and for us to keep track of their compliance. That’s where the technology comes in. To effectively enable this process change with technology, a platform with the following capabilities is crucial:

  • Web-based – the content you’re distributing should be accessible across any device that your staff may have available to them. Providing the content in a web-based format is the most effective way to ensure usability across the broadest array of devices possible.
  • Easy to use – if it’s difficult to find or access the content, your staff will not embrace the process. The platform you choose must be easy to use to make it simple and quick for staff to access the content, read/digest/acknowledge and get back to work.
  • Mobile-optimized – the individuals to whom we need to distribute content are not necessarily sitting at a desk in front of a computer, they’re walking the halls of a hospital, driving a police car or repairing a production line in a factory. The content must be accessible and optimized for use via smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices so that staff don’t have to stop and walk away from what they’re doing to access the critical information we’re making available to them.
  • Audit trail – in order to keep track of who has accessed and read the content, the platform should allow staff to acknowledge reading the content, with a permanent audit trail of that acknowledgement maintained by the system.
  • Quizzing – while acknowledgement helps to check the compliance box, it doesn’t really guarantee that the staff member read or understood the policy before acknowledging it. Distributing a brief quiz with a policy or procedure, and requiring staff to complete that quiz as part of the acknowledgement, helps you validate that the content has been read and understood.
  • Reporting – effective reporting to show managers which of their staff have/have not acknowledged critical documents or satisfactorily completed quizzes to demonstrate their knowledge.

I stress again that technology alone is not a solution to a process issue, but the right technology platform in conjunction with an effective change management process can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of an organization, and on the reduction of risk. We’ve gathered tremendously valuable information around these topics through hundreds of hours of interviews during the recent launch of our Acadia product. Call or send me an email and we would be happy to share information with you.

According to Experian Hitwise, in early March Facebook surpassed Google as the most visited Website in the US. Though the traffic levels between the two were close, Facebook’s year-over-year growth jumped 185%, while Google's traffic grew by only 9%! Like it or not, social media is radically changing how we interact online – and no group is more plugged into social media than teens (73% of all teens online use social media – Pew Research, March 23, 2010). For organizations targeting the teen market, such as our college and university clients, this news is another wake-up call for developing an effective and adaptable Web presence.

Admissions Marketing

Engaging prospective students through their preferred channels is particularly important for admissions marketers. Competition is fierce for the best applicants. Recent economic challenges have increased the need for effective recruitment as funding from endowments, gifts and other non-tuition based sources shrinks. Until recently, colleges drove admissions by casting a wide net for prospects, and then spent significant time and resources targeting a subset of prospective students who were deemed “interested” and well qualified.

The challenge now is the target audience is spending more and more time online communicating through social media channels. As a result, they’re paying much less attention to email – who has time to sift through an inbox full of junk mail to figure out what’s relevant – and barely skimming the glossy printed admissions brochures arriving in the mail.

Social Media vs. Your Website

So, how is communicating via social media different than just posting information to your Website? The Website is well understood and relatively stable means to:

  • Provide relevant and timely information about your institution’s programs, events, education opportunities, outcomes, costs, etc.
  • Direct visitors to services: apply for admissions or financial aid, request information, etc.

Social media has grown explosively over past several years – particularly Facebook – and is still rapidly evolving; key factors:

  • User-contributed content – social media enables two-way (or more) conversations with target audiences – far stronger engagement than email or Web copy.
  • Expanding your universe of contributors – engaging members of your faculty and staff who buy-in to the value of social media in the process will yield better content and stronger engagement with prospective students.
  • Managing risk – these interactive conversations create risk – you need policies for governing communication (e.g., who speaks for your institution), ground rules for what should/should not be said and how to deal with negative comments or feedback.

Social Media – Communities

Some of the many ways you can leverage social media for to help meet admissions objectives:

  • Facebook – develop communities around:
    • Prospective students – answer their questions, provide them with information and resources to help them make their college decision, and ultimately promote the benefits of joining your institution’s community through a two-way conversation
    • Accepted students – make them feel like they’re already part of your community; proactively connect with them – reinforce the one-on-one interaction between faculty/staff and students
  • Twitter – communicate events, announcements, deadlines, high school campus visits, etc.
  • YouTube – videos of campus life, surrounding area, local attractions, etc.:
    • Allow prospective students to visualize attending your college or university
    • Highlight strengths, whether it’s your campus, location or activities

Social Media – Retaining Control

While embracing social media creates significant benefits, it also presents some serious pitfalls – get ready for the whole world to see (and discuss) whatever is good and maybe not so good about your campus. Typically, content on your Website goes through some review process before it’s published – to ensure accuracy, relevance and quality (no typos, etc.). This is not necessarily so with social media.  The key to minimizing the risk of errant content is having and enforcing social media policies. At a minimum, your social media policy should address:

  • Governance – people who claim they represent the institution as a whole or in part should be officially sanctioned. Allowing any faculty/staff/student to communicate on behalf of the institution without formal oversight and guidance creates significant brand risk.
  • Responsibility – assign specific faculty and or staff members with responsibility for tracking and responding to posts on relevant social media.
  • Guidelines – staff/faculty/students who create social media post should be identified and provided with content creation guidelines for original posts and responses to posts from others.
  • Moderation – social media presences largely maintained by students should be identified as such and moderated by a faculty/staff member.  
  • Checks and balances – personnel responsible for Web and new media communications should be a second line of defense ensuring faculty/staff responsible for overseeing social media are upholding their responsibility. This office should then have the authority to shut down or reassign a social media that is not being appropriately moderated.
  • The final word – your institution’s Website should host links to all your “official” social media sites to avoid any confusion.

As with any policy, compliance with your social media guidelines will be much more effective if policies are clearly communicated, consistently enforced and supported by your institution’s senior executives.

Social media is a powerful mechanism for engaging prospective students (to increase applications) and accepted students (to improve yield). But having a strategy in place as well as appropriate policies and guidelines to safeguard your brand is critical to social media success. Ideally, your use of social media should be part of a broader Web strategy, one which blueprints your overall approach to Web engagement – from social media services and Web application platforms to the roles and responsibilities for of the people responsible for creating, managing, delivering and governing content.

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