What are policy briefs?

Think of the policy makers, how do we inform them ? They usually have no time to go through lengthy research. How do we advise policymakers, in the government or non government organizations, who are interested in formulating or influencing policy that is informed by research.  This is where policy briefs come in. A policy brief is a succinct summary of a particular issue. It includes the possible options to deal with the issue, and some recommendation on the best option.

How do we get Started ? 

You will need to decide what you want to do with your brief. It can take one of two approaches. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that policy briefs can either argue in favor of a particular course of action, or it can take a balanced approach and present facts in a manner to inform the policy maker so that s/he can decide her/his position. The first kind is called an advocacy brief, and the second type is called an objective brief. An advocacy brief may sound something like  ‘Farmer field schools on land and water management: An extension approach that works’ while an objective brief may sound something like ‘Rising food prices: Cause for concern’. 

Let’s talk about Format

A typical policy draft a single A4 sheet, containing perhaps 700 words. Your policy brief can be longer as well. But we recommend you don’t make it longer than 1500 words. Policy briefs can take different formats.You may include one or two photographs, or a chart of some type to supplement the information. Figures, especially photos, have more communicative power than text. Readers like illustrations.
It is crucial that you consider who is going to be reading your draft. Policymakers do not have time to read the details, make sure your policy brief is, like it’s name, brief and informs on what the policy should be. It definitely helps if your brief appears interesting and is easy to read. Try to make the design attractive. 
While there are many ways of structuring a policy brief. We recommend the following-  
Title: Your title could come with subtitles as well (look at example number one in the Be Inspired section). It can also be a question. Ask yourself these questions: Is my title short? Is it catchy? If I read this title somewhere would I be interested in reading through the brief? 
Summary: An Executive Summary should be placed in the very beginning.  
Introduction: After the executive summary you can begin to build a background on the topic, talk about the context. Give relevant information and data. Mention which research, or report you brief is based on. 
Main  body: This is where you discuss what research has been done and what we know. There are many different ways of doing this. Some use their own heading. Others, use questions as titles. Different agencies have different structures. If you are writing for any agency then it might be a good idea to look at their format. 
Some structures are 

  • Problem – effects – causes – solution
  • Subject 1 – subject 2 – subject 3 – policy implications
  • Example 1 – example 2 – example 3 – policy implications
  • Problem – intervention – results – policy implications

Sometimes policy briefs also have a section that talks about the research parameters, see this. This is typical if you/your team conducted the research or were in someway directly related to the process.
Policy implications and Recommendations:  This is where you present the options to the policy maker.If you have not given the recommendations at the beginning of the policy brief, you can put them here. If you can, provide and/or highlight one main recommendation. It can be difficult though. If you are presenting multiple options, mention the advantages and disadvantages of each. Immediately after that, mention how things will change if that particular course of action is embarked upon. Look at how multi point recommendation is presented in example number two in the Be Inspired section.
Conclusions : Your need for a conclusion will really depend on how detailed your summary in the beginning was. If it wasn’t conclusive, then maybe it would be a good idea to include it. We recommend that you write a good summary instead of a conclusion. In lieu of conclusion we are more interested in the recommendations. 
References, Footnotes and Additional information: The purpose of references in a policy brief is to just provide the reader with one to four sources where they can find further information.You may include web addresses of publications. It is best to avoid footnotes if you can. Put vital information instead in the main text. Have a box or sidebar for include additional information like cases, lists, examples or definitions, but be mindful of keeping them to a minimum.

Be Inspired

Here are a few samples for you to find some inspiration. Do not pick one and replicate it, go through all of them and find your own style. 

  1. DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGES OF NEPAL: Trends and Policy Implications is a policy brief published by National Planning Commission. This is a good example for something that is done in Nepal. It also has numerous tables and graphs that make the layout attractive. 
  2. Making national social protection floors work for women is a rather long policy brief, but you can look at the structure with this one.Also, you may want to look at the full report  this brief is based on.
  3. SDG Localization through Integration of Climate Change in Agricultural Planning and Budgeting at the National and Sub-national Levels is a good example of a bad title. But it uses pictures in a very good way. 
  4. Mind the Gap, is the kind of title that might generate some readership. This is also a very short brief, it is literally a one pager. 

We have looked at different formats of policy brief used by various organizations and compiled these pointers as a supporting document for use of student’s at King’s College. Feel free to talk to someone from C.E.R.A.D if you have any confusion regarding any content from this document. Happy Writing ! 


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