What is a Policy Brief?

Imagine that you are a Member of Parliament who is engaged in a debate about the retirement age. You know that this is a complex issue and you would like to learn more about the existing policies and the effects of changing the age at which people retire and are eligible for the aged pension.  You know there are likely economic consequences for the government and for individuals, there might be some implications for the labour market and maybe some effects that you haven’t thought of.  There is almost certainly some history you are unaware of.  You don’t have time to do all this research yourself …You need someone to write you a policy brief!

A policy brief offers a concise and accurate summary of information that assists others to understand a policy field/problem and make decisions about it.  Policy briefs may be objective summaries of research, they might offer arguments for and against a specific change, they might suggest policy options or they might offer a clear argument for a particular change.

The type of policy brief you write will depend on the context in which you are writing, who you are writing for and the purpose of the brief.

In some instances you might need to write a brief detailing the current debates about a particular policy field (for instance: Outline the Wentworth Groups key points of contention about the Murray Darling Basin Plan), in others you might need to outline the arguments/evidence against a policy, in others you might need to outline all the arguments/evidence for a change. Other briefs will be an ‘overview’ of a particular area of policy and responsibility (for instance: A brief outlining the role of social workers in the child protection system in NSW or A brief explaining how private health insurance premiums are set in Australia).  Other briefs will require a more detailed engagement with research and opinion and in some instances you might need to develop clear recommendations about how a policy could change.

In all cases writing a policy brief requires a range of skills, including a capacity to:

  • Undertake independent research and critique
  • Identify key features of a policy field
  • Identify key debates within a policy field
  • Communicate the above in a concise way

Writing a policy brief about a policy field is one of the key ways in which we often learn about history/debates/features. 

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