Quality and Productivity Database

Descriptive Title of Proposal: Improving Understandability and Impact: Applying a Well-being Lens to Policies and Procedures
Year Submitted 2017
Person(s) Responsible for the Idea
Name / Nom Title / Titre
Tara Black, Rosie Dhaliwal, Jo Hinchliffe, Tracey Mason-Innes TB: Associate Director, Health Promotion RD: Health Promotion Specialist JH: Associate Registrar TMI: Director, Residence & Housing
Name of Institution Simon Fraser University
Office Address 8888 University Drive
MBC 0152 c/o SFU Health and Counselling
Burnaby, British Columbia V5A1S6
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Telephone: 7787824587
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.
Name (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Tim Rahilly, Ph.D.
Title (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Vice-Provost & Associate Vice-President, Students and International
Office Address 8888 University Drive, MBC 3122
Burnaby, British Columbia V5A1S6
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Telephone: 778-782-4004
Email Address: Email hidden; Javascript is required.

As part of the internationally recognized Healthy Campus Community Initiative at Simon Fraser University, Policy and Processes is one of six identified action areas. Through a partnership between SFU’s Health Promotion team and Associate Registrar, the Well-being through SFU Policy project has engaged diverse campus stakeholders in recognizing and adapting policies, procedures and process in order to enhance their understandability and positively impact well-being.   Higher education institutions are increasingly recognizing health and well-being as having significant impacts on student, employee and institutional success.  Considering the well-being impacts of policies is a well-established recommendation, but translation and application in higher education has been lacking. 

Stakeholder Engagement & Development of “Well-being through SFU Policies & Procedures: A Guide for Action”

Beginning in 2014, the Health Promotion team reviewed literature and consulted with campus stakeholders to better understand how policies and processes were impacting well-being. By Spring 2015, over 200 participants had provided feedback though focus groups, a community consultation and individual meetings. This qualitative data was analyzed and several themes emerged which led to the development of “Well-being through SFU Policies and Procedures: A Guide for Action” (Guide for Action) and associated worksheet which are included in the supporting documents of this application. The Guide for Action provides a framework to intentionally consider how policies impact the physical, social and mental well-being of students, to be used when reviewing existing policies or procedures and creating new one.  The intent of applying the guide is to contribute to an institutional environment and culture that supports success and well-being.

Alongside the development of the guide, the Associate Registrar and Health Promotion team formed a partnership to review policies in the Academic Calendar. Over 90 Academic Calendar policies have been reviewed in terms of understandability, building a positive and supportive culture, reducing undue stress, facilitating access to resources and inclusivity. Recommendations for changes have been made and adaptations to policies within Senate and Academic Services are currently in progress based on the Guide for Action.

Criteria Please submit one paragraph describing how the proposal fulfills each of the evaluation criteria.

Results of the consultation process revealed that policies and processes are negatively impacting levels of stress not only for students, but also for employees.  This is very likely a common theme across institutions. 

The “Well-being through SFU Policies and Procedures: A Guide for Action” and associated worksheet are the first tools of their kind relevant for higher education.  They’re available online and can readily be used by other institutions. The features of the project which make it transferable are the principles which are holistic and broad:

“All aspects of policies and procedures will embody a culture of respect, fairness and support for student success and well-being. Navigating policies and processes is seen as a learning experience and extension of students’ formal education.” (SFU, 2016)

In addition, the 3 categories of the guide 1) Policy Development and Review, 2) Content, Writing and Format, and 3) Application/Interpretation provide guidelines that can be applied to any higher education institution.

To date, the Health Promotion team was contacted by the Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health to be part of a webinar in Fall 2014, and presented the project at the 2015 Canadian Association of College and Universities annual conference and 2016 Healthy Minds, Healthy Campuses Summit through the Canadian Mental Health Association- BC Division. The team is happy to connect with other campuses who wish to use the guide.  

Quality Impact

Through the engagement and consultation process, input from 200 campus members was elicited, and results confirmed a strong connection between policies and processes and well-being. 

The development of the Guide for Action is considered a key outcome in and of itself. As noted, the Guide for Action is the first tool of its kind to provide guidance to those working in higher education regarding the consideration of well-being in policy. 

To date, 90 academic calendar policies have been reviewed and changes are being made on an ongoing basis.

The Guide for Action articulates guidelines with respect to policy content, writing and format such as clarity, consistency, plain and inclusive language and format.  By reviewing policies and procedures with these in mind, the quality and understandability of the policy or procedure is unquestionably positively impacted.  Student focus groups were conducted as part of the Academic Calendar review.  Students were shown pre and post policy revisions, and results indicated a positive impact:

“If I fail a course, I probably already feel like crap. When retaking it, I want to feel empowered. I want to feel like the school understands that I struggled with a course but I have the ability to do better, like SFU believes in me…I understand why the limit has to exist and I understand the procedure, but just changing the words makes all the difference.”

-Focus Group Participant, March 2015

 “With the reworded statement I feel like they are trying to help me!”

                                                                                                                -Focus Group Participant, March 2015

In addition, students repeatedly suggested rewording or rephrasing sentences to help clarify the content and to appear more sympathetic and compassionate towards students navigating the policy. Students connected abstract verbs and nouns and other forms of ambiguity to deliberate concealment. Students felt that long paragraphs created the appearance that the university did not care about student success and well-being. When format was improved in the revised policies via tables, graphs, hyperlinks, smaller paragraph sections, and bolded and italicized information, students responded positively to the changes and said that they felt accepted because the effort to make the information accessible revealed the university’s attempt to be transparent, a term they used in connection with honesty.

Productivity Impact

The experience of SFU Residence and Housing will be used as a case study to demonstrate impact on productivity.  After making intentional changes to Residence and Housing policies, Dr. Tracey Mason-Innes (Director) observed improvements in staff morale and satisfaction as well as fewer student complaints.  Changes have also resulted in fewer staff sick days, higher occupancy rates and increasing demand for residence at SFU.  Changes made included splitting the License Agreement (a cumbersome document filled with a mix of legal language and informal tones) to two separate documents, a Residence Contract (which contains legal information) and Residence Handbook (outlines standards expected from student and resources offered at SFU), among others.


Please note the below supporting documents are also available online. http://www.sfu.ca/healthycampuscommunity/well-being-through-policy.html 


In Public Health and Health Promotion fields, “Health in All Policies” is a well established concept by the World Health Organization.  It is also articulated in the newly released Okanagan Charter: An International Charter for Health Promoting Universities and Colleges (2015): “Embed health in all campus policies. Review, create and coordinate campus policies and practices with attention to health, well-being and sustainability, so that all planning and decision-making takes account of and supports the flourishing of people, campuses, communities and our planet.”  Although there has been recognition about the importance of considering health in all policies, higher education has done little to take action in this respect.  Tools such as Health Impact Assessments are available, however these are intended for government and municipalities and have little relevance to higher education.  To our knowledge, there aren’t any tools for higher education institutions to consider the impact of policies on health, which is why we embarked on a developmental process over the last two years. In addition the guide has also been shared and has gained support from the broader SFU community, in particular it was presented to the Senate Committee on Undergraduate Studies as well as the University Secretary responsible for policy development. 

Upon reviewing the Q&P database, no other initiative has been submit that addresses policy and well-being.

Supporting Documents