activist notes


6.6 Policy/by-law design

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6.6 Policy/by-law design

6.6.1 Wording

6.6.1.1 Involving City staff

6.6.1.2 Intertextual resources

6.6 Policy/by-law design    

6.6.1 Wording

In designing (and redesigning) objectives and in getting down to the specifics of what to get the municipality to commit to, pay attention to the shift in language involved.  Community organizations, religious organizations, trade unions, and so on all have or develop distinctive ways of talking, writing, celebrating, picturing and so on to express and formulate what they’re about and their values. But the work of a municipality relies itself on a distinctive language. It’s as if, engaging with municipal business, a campaign walks on to a different territory, one that is defined in part by a specialized language. If you watch TV broadcasts of or visit your local municipal council meetings you’ll begin to get a sense of the importance of the specialized language used there by mayor, Councillors and staff and of how much seems to depend on getting something to fit a particular rule or category. As mentioned above, the forms in which council can get actions going are by a formal procedure of making a decision – but what?  What has to be passed as a motion by a majority of Councillors to become something the municipality is then supposed to do? Is it a resolution? a by-law? a policy? And what’s the difference?  What should you be going after and how should it be worded so as to be maximally effective.  

And then the wording has to fit within what the municipality can do in the terms established by whatever provincial laws govern them.

This specialized language is integral to how the municipality operates, indeed to how it can legitimately operate. It is an important aspect of how the different parts of the organization of municipal work are coordinated. Getting something through Council is one thing; having it written so that it can be given effect when it is implemented is equally important. 

6.6.1.1 Involving city staff

The best route to getting your objectives brought within the range of what is practicable from the staff viewpoint is, obviously, to engage in dialogue with them. There are many examples at all levels of government of the passage of policy even legislation that disappears when it passes through Council to staff to be implemented. Activists often interpret this as staff resistance. And, of course, sometimes there is resistance. Problems may arise for staff from the practicalities of implementing a particular policy within existing commitments. There may be problems about who can take on the responsibility for additional work involved or of where the needed work time to implement is going to come from. Involving staff at the stage of planning the wording of a policy can help to avoid writing difficulties into the policy. Thinking ahead on such issues can be important at the stage of implementation. Part of the success of the Vancouver Ethical Purchasing Policy campaign was not just in getting the motion passed in Council; it was also because it included provision for a staff position with specific responsibilities for implementation.

Consulting with staff does not mean giving over control of the final wording of the policy. It’s important, of course, to ensure that the wording preserves the objectives of your organization. It’s also important to establish a wording that preserves and writes in the central principles of the campaign. Even if the concrete specifics narrow down the objectives, preserving the general overall objectives in the wording lays the basis for future expansions. It helps to establish what your organization has struggled for as an integral part of the municipality’s public reputation and of the reputation of the Councillors who supported it. 

6.6.1.2 Intertextual resources

We’re using the term intertextual here to draw attention to the reality that your campaign operates in a region of texts – paper, electronic, and so on, and of interrelations between texts at different levels, that is, their intertextuality. We’ve already drawn attention to the importance of national non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in being able to give support and making connections beyond the local. In designing appropriate language for the Ethical Purchasing policy in Vancouver, the BCEPG coalition referred to the ILO conventions to describe the conditions of labour that were unacceptable. The conventions are available as a text accessible on the ILO website. Texts authorized by the long-standing international agency were used to authorize the relevant parts of the policy text at the municipal level. As well, out there among national and international NGOs are other sources of advice about wording or how to word a policy or bylaw text so that it will conform to national or international standards. The latter are worded in very very specific ways or defined very specifically by definite numerical indices, just because they are going to be used to write other texts that take authority from them. Using intertextual resources of this kind and identifying them in the text of your proposal helps to legitimate it and give it authority.  

The latter is an important function. Using a wording that is explicitly legitimated by legal authority, international organization, or other formally recognized and established bodies helps to persuade elected representatives, members of the press, and the public in general of its legitimacy. At the stage of implementation, municipal staff can refer to the legitimating authority to justify a measure or course of action.

In the Vancouver ethical purchasing policy case, the formulation of the rules to govern the labour practices to be considered ethical refers to the International Labour Organization (ILO) principles. The ILO is an international organization; representatives of labour, business and national governments who are signatories of the ILO have worked together to write codes delineating appropriate employer conduct. Staff of the City of Vancouver could make reference to the ILO principles and to the fact that Canada was a signatory to them to justify the City’s new Supplier Code of Conduct to potential business partners of the City.


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