Taming counterfeit policy documents

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By Edwin Libasya & Victor Munene

It must be olds news now that over 80 percent of documents in the country purporting to be policy documents – particularly public policy documents – are in reality contemptible, intellectually dishonest write ups. This could be simply picking from the proliferation of fake merchandise in Kenya – fake currency, gold, certificates, qualifications and many other commodities have become common place.

The public sector has, in recent times, been hit by an unprecedented craze for policymaking. Every other department or section is doing a policy paper or document. This in essence is a very positive development. The only problem is that whereas the quantity may be good, the quality is often wanting.

The worrisome practice is that the substandard output is used as templates for future works. A major factor that contributes to this is a lack of documentation standards in the country. Contrary to common practice and beliefs, all serious written matter must be subject to assessment and evaluation. 

Here, documentation implies written content that is meant to convey information or provide a record and not purely the library cataloguing of publications. Assessment means collecting, reviewing and using data, for the purpose of making improvements in the existing document, whilst evaluation is an act of passing judgment on the basis of pre-set standards.

Strict critique of the content in our policy documents reveals that they are pseudo policies. Whereas, these products of dubious technical writers are evident in many public documents, ranging from strategic plans, speeches, registration forms and reports, an upsurge in production of policies and their medium invites a special focus on them. 

In designing of documents, one success measure is making it self-identifying. Thus a strategic plan, a speech, a registration form, a proposal or report should conform to its definition and description. This means that they shouldn’t necessarily need a title! Someone should be able to discern easily that what they’re looking at or reading is a newspaper, a wedding card or a resume.

Unfortunately, most policy papers in Kenya fall short of their name. Although they are eager to be titled, their subject matter is incongruent to expectation. They spend more words and space on meta-information rather than substantive content.

Pseudo policy documents waste considerable paragraphs telling the audience about objectives, rationales and scopes of the policy. In good documentation practice, these content elements (and any other) are encouraged, but as short parts and longer versions created separately as supplementary reference material for those who interested in in-depth details.

Imagine how boring, tiring and awkward it would be if your birth certificate had an extra 10 pages of content explaining what it is, its background, purpose, key principles, and the overview of  the current legal, regulatory and institutional framework?

The producers of pseudo documents have perfected the art of bombarding the citizenry with such material. They have become emboldened that they even invite public, in the spirit of public participation, to give views to ‘improve’ the pseudo documents!

— Authors are Technical Communication Practitioners with Document Point

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