Please see the Policy Analysis in 750 words series overview before reading the summary. See also ‘Designing and implementing policy writing assessments: A practical guide‘ for a handy list of resources (in the article annex).
Smith focuses on the communication of policy analysis within US government. Effective communication requires ‘conceptual and contextual awareness’. Policy actors communicate from a particular viewpoint, representing their role, interests, and objectives.
In government, policy analysts often write (1) on behalf of policymakers, projecting a specific viewpoint, and (2) for policy makers, requiring them to (a) work remarkably quickly to (b) produce concise reports to (c) reflect the need to process information efficiently.
Actors outside government are less constrained by (1), but still need to write in a similar way. Their audience makes quick judgements on presentations: the source of information, its relevance, and if they should read it fully.
‘General Method of Communicating in a Policy Process’
Smith identifies the questions to ask yourself when communicating policy analysis, summarised as follows:
‘Step 1: Prepare’
- To what policy do I refer?
- Which audiences are relevant?
- What is the political context, and the major sites of agreement/ disagreement?
- How do I frame the problem, and which stories are relevant to my audience?
‘Step 2: Plan’
- What is this communication’s purpose?
- What is my story and message?
- What is my role and interest?
- ‘For whom does this communication speak?’
- Who is my audience?
- What will they learn?
- What is the context and timeframe?
- What should be the form, content, and tone of the communication?
‘Step 3. Produce’
- Make a full draft, seek comments during a review, then revise.
Smith provides two ‘checklists’ to assess such communications:
- Effectiveness. Speak with an audience in mind, highlight a well-defined problem and purpose, project authority, and use the right form of communication.
- Excellence. Focus on clarity, precision, conciseness, and credibility.
Smith then focuses on specific aspects of this general method, including:
- Framing involves describing the nature of the problem – its scope, and who is affected – and connecting this definition to current or new solutions.
- Evaluation requires critical skills to question ‘conventional wisdom’ and assess the selective use of information by others. Use the ‘general method’ to ask how others frame problems and solutions, then provide a fresh perspective (compare with Bacchi).
- Know the Record involves researching previous solutions. This process reflects the importance of ‘precedent’: telling a story of previous attempts to solve the problem helps provide context for new debates (and project your knowledgeability).
- Know the Arguments involves engaging with the ideas of your allies and competitors. Understand your own position, make a reasoned argument in relation to others, present a position paper, establish its scope (the big picture or specific issue), and think strategically (and ethically) about how to maximise its impact in current political debates.
- Inform Policymakers suggests maximising policymaker interest by keeping communication concise, polite, and tailored to a policymaker’s values and interests.
- Public Comment focuses on the importance of working with administrative officials even after legislation is passed (especially if ‘street level bureaucrats’ make policy as they deliver).
Policy analysis in a wider context
Although Smith does not focus on policy process theories, knowledge of policy processes guides this advice. For example, Smith advises that:
- There is no linear and orderly policy cycle in which to present written analysis. The policymaking environment is more complex and less predictable than this model suggests (although Smith still distinguishes heavily between legislation to make policy and administration to deliver – compare with the ACF)
- There is no blueprint or uniform template for writing policy analysis. The mix of policy problems is too diverse to manage with one approach, and ‘context’ may be more important than the ‘content’ of your proposal. Consequently, Smith provides a huge number of real-world examples to highlight the need to adapt policy analysis to the task at hand (see also Bacchi on analysts creating problems as they frame them).
- Policy communication is not a rational/ technical process. It is a political exercise, built on the use of values to frame and try to solve problems. Analysis takes place in often highly divisive debates. People communicate using stories, and they use framing and persuasion techniques. They need to tailor their arguments to specific audiences, rather than hoping that one document could appeal to everyone (see Deborah Stone’s Policy Paradox).
- Everyone may have the ability to frame issues, but only some policymakers ‘have authority to decide’ to pay attention to and interpret problems (see PET).
- Communication comes in many forms to reflect many possible venues (such as, in the US context, processes of petition and testimony to public hearings alongside appeals to the executive and legislative branches)