If you want to learn to write public policy well, or improve your existing public policy writing, get Catherine F. Smith’s ‘Writing Public Policy’.
The author shows you how to:
- Write clear public policy
- Provides good written examples
- Checklists to help you prepare policy memoranda, position papers, briefings
- Helpful insights
The 11 Chapter, 226 page book, is worth it for the checklists alone.
I have copied 3 of checklists.
Checklist 1: General method of communicating in a policy process
Step 1: Prepare
First, ask questions about the policy process.
- To what policy action does the communication relate?
- Does a policy already exist?
- What conditions are problematic?
- What problem do these conditions present?
- How do I define the problem?
- How do others define the problem?
- What narrative does my definition suggest?
- How do I frame or characterize the problem? What is it like, metaphorically?
- What stories, frames or metaphors are apparent in other definitions of the problem?
- Who are the actors?
- What are their roles?
- What are their interests?
- Who else has a significant role interest in the process?
- What are the major disagreement or conflicts?
- What are the major agreements or common interests?
- Which actors are most likely to influence the process?
Step 2: Plan
Second, ask questions about communication.
- Why is this communication needed?
- What do I want to accomplish?
- What story do I want to tell?
- What is my message?
- How does my message differ from that of others on the topic?
- What argument will I make to support my message?
- How does my argument relate to that of others on the topic?
- What is my role in this process?
- What is my interest in the outcome?
- Whose name will be in the document(s)?
- For whom does the communication speak?
- Who is the named recipient(s)?
- Who will use the information?
- How do I want the information to be used?
- Will the document(s) be forwarded? Circulated?
- What will the recipients know after reading the document?
- What all the users you use of its information do?
- What is likely to happen as a consequence of this communication?
Setting and Situation
- What is the occasion?
- What is the time frame for communicating?
- Where, when, and how will this communication be presented?
- Where, when and how will it be received and used?
Form and Medium
- Is there a prescribed form or do I choose?
- What is the appropriate medium for presentation and delivery?
- What information will support the message?
- Where will a succinct statement of the message be placed?
- How will the contents be arranged to support the message?
- How will the document’s design make information easy to find?
Tone and Appearance
- How do I want this communication to sound?
- What attitude do I want it to convey?
- How do I want the document to look?
- Who will draft the document?
- Will there be collaborators?
- Who will review the draft?
- Who will revise it?
Step 3: Produce
Write the document in 3 phases: (1st) draft, (2nd) review, and (3rd) revise.
Do not mix the 3 stages.
- Produce a complete working draft in accordance with your preparation and plan
- Compare the draft plan and highlight any differences
- Get additional review of the draft by others, if necessary
- Referred to the checklists shown next to assess the draft’s effectiveness and quality and to highlight the need for revision
- Make the changes called for by the review
Checklist 2: Features of effectiveness
- Address a specific audience about a specific problem.
- Has a purpose related to a specific policy action?
- Represents authority accurately
- Uses appropriate form
- Is designed for use
Checklist 3: Measures of excellence
Can you write and say it?
Smith says, “In policy work if you can’t write it, and say it, you can’t do it.” A lot pf public policy practitioners can do neither.
So, if you don’t turn up to the public consultation, you can’t be surprised if you position is ignored. If you do not turn up the comment, or don’t raise the key issue, or go into gobbledygook overdrive, you will miss the chance to contribute. It is a lot more common than you would think. Few civil servants are telepaths, so if the reader does not understand what have put down in writing, they will ignore it. Only you are to blame.
Smith notes most procedures are regular and the players tend to be established.
For example, once a year the European Commission prepare a Work Programme. A limited group of people determine the main legislative and policy cycle for the Commission for the next 12 months. Despite the regular cycle, many interests just ignore it.
The preparation of legislative proposals, the passage of ordinary and delegated legislation, all have, more or less, common steps. Whilst there are certain procedures that are less frequent, or where vagaries turn up, around 90% of your day to day work will be regular.
This has an advantage. You know most of the steps and key players in advance. More importantly, with Smith’s book, you will get to present your case in the best way possible. Her book will help you write out many public briefing letters, briefings and memos months in advance.
How to know if you don’t want to win?
It is clear that not many people want to genuinely influence public policy writing. First, many interests do not want to positively persuade and influence. Too many interests are in the business of points scoring. Second, you are involved, whether you like it or not, in the business of change. If you are against change, the chance of success is limited.
A guarantee to be ignored is to misrepresent your position. Along with showing you don’t your argument and issue, both will have your position being ignored and locked out of the public policy making process. Policy makers are busy and time is too limited.
Signs you want to win?
You want to persuade and want to win over key decisions makers over to your side.
Your audience are the policymakers, political advisers, officials, and legislators. I am guessing you know most of them.
The information you communicate is relevant, make things happen, have consequences should be publicly available.
It is intelligible, understandable, applicable, useful and credible. Your reader’s view is the only test for what is relevant, and how they see things the relevant criteria.
All too often, it is too easy for the reader to quickly put the public policy memo aside. You will not copy many of your colleagues. No cluttered, unintelligible, abstract and confusing memo from you. You will be one of the few whose writing stands out for being clear, easy to read and clear.