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Rules, Discretion, Appeals & Audit

Summary #

Many decisions in life require a delicate balance of trade-offs in order to get the best results. Recent examples highlight the need to restore such balance to everyday policies especially for so-called "Zero-Tolerance" policies.

Walking on a tightrope

(Photo: Wikimedia)

Commentary #

Schneier wrote a nice article on zero-tolerance policies which he refers to as "zero-discretion" policies. He brings up the recent story of the cub scout who brought a camping utensil to school as an example of an unbalanced policy gone awry.

Zero-discretion policies stem from the need to avoid inappropriate discrimination, that is to be "fair". To that end, no discrimination—no matter how warranted—must be allowed. You know you're dealing with a zero-discretion policy when the enforcer of the policy agrees with you, but "those are the rules, I can't do anything about it."

Schneier recommends a four-pronged solution:

  1. Rules - Start with the rules & procedures.

  2. Discretion - Throw in a dash of discretion to taste.

  3. Appeals - Add plenty of opportunities for people to appeal.

  4. Audit - Stir occasionally to ensure smooth consistency.

In short, provide some room for interpretation (discretion), and then make sure that that room doesn't get abused (appeals & audit).

Meta #

What are some examples of situations where you've encountered "zero-tolerance" policies?