Tips for preparing a policy brief

A policy brief provides policymakers with research evidence related to a specific policy issue.

The brief summarises findings, offers targeted analysis, and gives recommendations for action.

Policy briefs raise awareness of current research on policy needs and succinctly communicate evidence-based recommendations.

Use tips

When crafting a policy brief, remember that it is meant for a professional audience, not academics.

Policymakers primarily want to know what is known or not yet known about an issue and are less interested in research methodology.

Therefore, the focus of the policy brief should be on the policy issue at hand and provide a comprehensive yet targeted argument within a limited space.

Use clear language and avoid jargon to construct the brief.

Present the argument in a clear and easy-to-follow manner, making it accessible to a knowledgeable audience without specialist technical knowledge.

Include the best available data and evidence to support proposed policies or range of options and consider the impact of the proposed policy in the narrative analysis.

Support all recommendations with evidence about the issue and the consequences of adopting particular policy options. Make recommendations clear, actionable, and realistic for the target audience.

Title the policy brief clearly and make sure it refers to the problem or policy in question.

State the conclusion clearly at the beginning and provide analysis to support it.

Use illustrative images, figures, or a select story to bring data to life.

Remain objective in your analysis and remember that a policy brief is not an opinion editorial.

Restate the key message at the beginning and end for impact.

Summarise the evidence or key recommendations and indicate the level of conclusiveness.

Be transparent about the methodology and criteria used for critical appraisal.

Develop a dissemination plan to share the policy brief through multiple channels such as websites, webinars, social media, and targeted communication.

Monitor the impact of the policy brief through a specific research plan that includes methods and procedures.

Make sure the policy brief is relevant to current issues and not just written because it is new and exciting to academics. Policymakers are time-pressured and primarily interested in recommendations that they can act on.

Recommendation framework

An example of a framework to help draft a recommendation. (West, R., et al, 2019)

Framework to guide development of a policy brief

(Wong, S.L., et al, 2016)

Step 1: Define the Problem

What is the issue or the problem? Why is it important? Why now? Who is impacted and who cares? When defining your problem, be specific to your audience and clearly frame the issue. Who has the influence to make a change that will address this problem? If the audience is expected to be policymakers (and their staff), community leaders (grassroots or grasstops), in- dustry or nongovernmental organization execu- tives, the problem should be defined in terms relevant to their policy intervention, respec- tively.

Step 2: State the Policy

Identify 1–3 specific policy actions that will address the problem. In a focused policy brief, the goal is to limit the menu of potential actions to target a policy approach of interest. A more extensive policy review or proposal may be a comprehensive white paper that elucidates many related policy options. Consider a focused brief to describe one policy in depth as opposed to exploring a problem and all of the potential policy solutions.

Step 3: Make Your Case

Display and describe relevant data using 1–2 figures or tables; declare potential bias based on the data sources; refer to other related policies that are not discussed. Redirect to other policy references when possible or appropriate.

Step 4: Discuss the Impact

Briefly discuss the implications of both action and inaction; analyze estimated pros and cons of the policy action; consider intended and unin- tended consequences; address opposing arguments. Conclude with a restatement of how this policy specifically addresses this problem.

References used in writing this tips:

Antonopoulou, V., Chadwick, P., McGee, O., Sniehotta, F.F., Lorencatto, F., Meyer, C., O’Donnell, A., Lecouturier, J., Kelly, M. & Michie, S., 2021, Research engagement with policy makers: a practical guide to writing policy briefs, Policy Research Unit in Behavioural Science. URL: https://ideas.repec.org/p/osf/osfxxx/m25qp.html

Wong, S.L., Bazemore, A.W., and Green, L.A., 2016, How to Write a Health Policy Brief, Families, Systems, & Health, Vol. 35, No. 1, 21–24, URL:https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/features/fsh-fsh0000238.pdf

West R, Michie S., Atkins, L. Chadwick, P. & Lorencatto, F. (2019). Achieving behaviour change: A guide for local government and partners. Available at: https:// assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/ system/uploads/attachment_data/file/875385/PHEBI_ Achieving_Behaviour_Change_Local_Government.pdf

Other useful academic readings:

Dagenais, C., & Ridde, V., 2018, Policy brief as knowledge transfer tool: to “make a splash”, your policy brief must first be read, Gas Saint, 32(3). URL: https://www.gacetasanitaria.org/en-pdf-S0213911118300360

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