Good Policy Writing

Criteria for Good Policy Documents

In its Review of Policy Development Capacity Within Government Departments, the Government of Manitoba identified the following six criteria to evaluate quality of policy documents:

  • Criterion 1: Present the Purpose of the Policy Document

    A policy document should explain the reasons for the policy paper, the nature and scope of the issue/problem for which a policy response is being sought and the desired outcome that a policy or set of policies is intended to achieve

  • Criterion 2: Provide Evidence

    A policy document should provide data/facts to substantiate and support the various arguments and recommendations put forth. Data/facts can be qualitative and quantitative.

  • Criterion 3: Identify and Evaluate Options

    A policy document should identify the range of options available to address the issue/problem described and should identify the framework of principles or objectives that guided the selection of options to be considered. A common set of criteria should be used to evaluate the pros and cons of each of the options considered. Where a review of options is not considered relevant or suitable in relation to the policy question at hand, a policy document should include a statement to this effect with reasons.

  • Criterion 4: Logical Sequence

    A policy document should contain a logical flow in terms of presenting the various arguments and recommendations put forth. The linkage between one section of a policy paper and the next should be clear. The reader should have an overall sense of the organizational structure of the policy document.

  • Criterion 5: Present the Results of Consultations

    A policy paper should identify who has been consulted in the process of developing the policy paper and should identify the feedback received from those consulted. Where consultation is not deemed appropriate or timely under the circumstances, the policy paper should provide a statement to this effect with reasons.

  • Criterion 6: Clear Presentation

    A policy paper should present each section in a direct, straightforward fashion that is as brief as possible without compromising comprehensiveness and comprehension.

Also see Policy Cycle: Developing Policy Proposals and Innovative Approaches to Policy Making: Nine Features of Modern Policy Making.

The Qualities of Good Policy Writing

In his discussion paper, "The Worth of a Garden", Performance Measurement and Policy Advice in the Public Service, Mark. Schacter states that "interaction among policy practitioners, among policy consumers, and between practitioners and consumers has …given rise to a core of shared ideas about "good" process and output." (p.7)

Adapting informal standards put forward by the Governments of New Zealand and Australia (among others) Schacter suggests that while, the elements of "good" policy advice may be somewhat subjective (e.g.depending on the audience), consensus has generally been reached on the following points.

Good policy advice/writing:

  • is timely – it is ready when Ministers and other decision-makers need it;
  • has been prepared based on adequate consultation with stakeholders inside and outside government;
  • clearly articulates the purpose for which it has been prepared;
  • has a sound logical basis – there is a clear description of the facts and assumptions upon which the advice is based, and a clear articulation of the links between fact and assumptions on the one hand, and conclusions and recommendations on the other;
  • has a sound evidentiary basis – the underlying evidence is accurate and complete;
  • is balanced – it presents a representative range of viewpoints;
  • presents an adequate range of viable options for action;
  • is relevant to the current situation faced by decision-makers – it takes into account current realities (including political realities) and anticipates related developments;
  • is well presented to the reader – the prose is concise; the text is well organized;
  • is pragmatic – it bears in mind implementation issues.

Resources

The Worth of a Garden", Performance Measurement and Policy Advice in the Public Service (A Discussion Paper) Mark. Schacter, 2006

Writing Effective Public Policy Papers. A Guide for Policy Advisers in Central and Eastern Europe Eóin Young and Lisa Quinn

Policy Development Capacity within Government Departments, Government of Manitoba, 2001