Policy Brief/Memo: Guidelines. (Individual task: 2,000 words).
A policy brief/memo is a (relatively) short piece whose primary aim is to provide policy recommendations in terms accessible to a non-expert audience.
Policy brief/memos are widely used by a wide range of actors including government, think tanks, NGOs… While some briefs can aim at providing the decision-maker with objective, balanced information, policy briefs are often ‘advocacy’ pieces that clearly recommend a specific course of action.
- A policy brief/memo is not an academic essay or article. You will need to know your audience:
- The general public/media: the brief/memo must be accessible to a broad readership and it is highly likely that a large part of your audience will have little or no training in your field of expertise. This means that if you want to convey your ideas efficiently, you will need to avoid highly specialized/obscure jargon and intricate academic debates. Most of your readers are likely to have little interest in (or even tolerance for) discussions revolving around complex, abstruse theoretical concept. One of the key challenges is to convey complex ideas and information in simple words that make your brief/memo accessible to anyone interested in the issue.
- More targeted groups (decision makers, advocacy groups…): Some narrow sections of your audience might be familiar with your topic/field of expertise, but decision-makers with large portfolios are unlikely to have an in-depth knowledge of the issue you are writing about.
- A policy brief/memo is a stand-alone document (i.e. not the nth episode in a Star Wars– like ennealogy). The reader must be able to understand your message without having to read anything This means that you need to provide enough background information so that the reader can understand the problem.
- A policy brief/memo is built around one well-defined, specific issue. The broader the issue you are trying to deal with, the more superficial your work is likely to be.
- A policy brief/memo is about… policy. This means that you need to be extremely careful about your wording. You might have to write policy brief/memos for decision-makers that are largely unsympathetic to your ideas or have little or no interest in the issue you are writing about. Your need to convince your reader of the importance of the issue and shape their perceptions regarding the adequate solutions. You need to avoid antagonizing potential readers, but also avoid becoming “yes people” who simply tell decision-makers what they want to hear.
This also means that you have to specify clearly what your policy recommendations are. You will need to make a clear case explaining how your recommendations will positively impact the outcome, and why your preferred course of action will perform better than other alternatives.
- A policy brief is fact-based. You need to provide evidence for any recommendation you make. Unsubstantiated claims will weaken your work. It is usually recommended that you take into account the risk involved in your own preferred course of action and refer to possible –even if less preferable– alternatives.
- A policy brief/memo is a very short document (2,000 words for the one you have to write for this unit). This means that:
- You need to get to the point and stay focused. You need to give only essential information and avoid two opposite pitfalls: not giving enough information for the reader to understand the issue, and overwhelmed the reader with amounts of information the reader cannot rapidly process.
- ‘Synthesis’ is the key word: you will need to transform large, complex, disorganized, sometimes chaotic information into a clear, succinct text.
- You need to have a very good understanding of the question you are trying to address, your own field of expertise and… how your question relates to your field. There is a large amount of individual research that must be done before you start
- There is no room for digression. Your reader is likely to rapidly lose patience if the brief/memo deals with issues that are only indirectly or marginally related to the question you are trying to answer.
- It is about being accessible. Have your teammates review your brief/memo: if they don’t understand what you are talking about you probably need to rewrite at least part of your work.
- Virtually all think tanks produce policy briefs, it is a good idea to have a look at how some of them are written.
- Use subheading to convey your main points (avoid large blocks of text).
- Executive summary. Short (two paragraphs).
Summarize the main point of the brief and the recommended course of action.
Explain the importance of the issue.
Briefly describe the current situation and summarize the objectives. Provide an overview of the findings.
- Alternatives, Analysis, Results. (1,000-1,200 words).
Present the facts and data (you can use graph, figures,…).
Analyze the current policy, its results and possible alternatives (incl. strengths/weaknesses).
Explain why change is needed.
Explain how the new course of action will improve the situation.
Include an estimate of consequences for various stakeholders, potential risks, likely limitations.
Please use Harvard referencing (author-date and list of references).