There are quite a few resources available on how to write a policy brief, but I still find that students struggle somewhat with this assignment, in part because it is such a different writing task than they usually face. A part of me always feels a little bit guilty for assigning it, too, because the truth is that I just don’t find them all that useful in actual lobbying; at least on the issues on which I mostly advocate, policymakers are more interested in the political ramifications than a set of factual arguments. So I found myself using talking points, lists of endorsers, myth v. fact sheets, and other materials, slightly less dense with facts. Still, I think that the process of researching and writing a policy brief is a very important one for policy advocates; it forces us to familiarize ourselves with the existing information from multiple viewpoints, to hone our statement of the social problem, to clearly articulate why our policy option is the best one, and to identify those messages that will be the most concise and coherent as we move forward with the campaign. And, of course, instructors (like me!) keep assigning policy briefs, so students will need to keep grappling with this exercise, at least in the classroom setting.
Some thoughts on what makes a good policy brief, based on my research into others’ instructions for policy brief preparation, my work preparing dozens of briefs, and my review of many more dozens of student and organizational briefs.
The best policy briefs:
Students often tell me that they want more examples of policy briefs, so, this year, I obtained permission from some of my students to share their well-done policy briefs. The links to these documents are below, along with my comments about what I find particularly appealing about each one, and the authors’ names. All of these students received their MSW degrees from the University of Kansas in May 2009–congratulations to them, and I look forward to seeing more of their advocacy as their careers progress! Thank you, too, for allowing me to share these.
If anyone has a policy brief that they’d like to share, for comments or critique, please do so. Do you have resources that you’ve found particularly helpful in preparing policy briefs? When have you used a policy brief in an advocacy context to great effect?
Sarah Brokenleg: This one is visually very easy to read and attractive. She makes her main points early and repeats them, and she covers the three main policy subtopics. My favorite part about this brief is that she refutes the main counterargument without giving it any real emphasis, which I think is very effective.
Statewide Smoking Ban
Kavya Velagapudi and April Rand: They were very specific about their audience–Lawrence-area policymakers, and the brief is very targeted towards them. I like that they highlighted the programs that would be negatively affected without turning it into a ‘policymaking by anecdote’ situation. We debated the inclusion of the revenue-enhancement alternatives, because I tend to argue that we should never be the ones backed into figuring out where to come up with the money, but they felt, from their conversations with decision-makers, that they really needed to put something on the table, and I respect that.
Alcohol Tax Revenues
Adam Timberlake, Susila Gabbert, Anna Giles: Adam did the design work on this, and what I like most about this particular brief is that I know that it is an issue that is very close to his heart, but he presents it in a way that is compelling but still very professional and well-researched. At the end, he makes the three main points related to his policy brief. He doesn’t back away from the ‘soft’ benefit of healthier communities, but he doesn’t rely solely on that. And I love the way that he incorporated the housing in the background.
Housing Trust Fund