Policy Development and Setting

Issue Brief Instruction

  1. To practice one important genre of policy writing: the issue brief. Like policy briefs more broadly, the issue brief is a concise, accessible, engaging, and informative document (generally two to eight pages) for a non-expert audience. Here, you have max. 1000 words.
  2. To identify a relevant audience (addressee) and make the brief appropriate to that audience’s level of awareness regarding the issue.
  3. To practice how to investigate and synthesize information on a policy issue swiftly.

Purpose of the Issue Brief
• Inform the audience about the issue, persuade them it is important, and prepare them to seek, discuss, or assess policy options.
• Unlike other policy briefs, it is not written to argue for a particular policy action.
• Oriented toward agenda-setting and policy development rather than decision-making.
• Your brief could describe a range of policy options (perhaps including key differences), or identify the key aims for a policy response without specifying concrete options.

Audience of the Issue Brief
• Addressee should be an informed but non-expert audience. This could include decisionmakers such as elected officials or senior bureaucrats, stakeholders such as civil society or business groups, or opinion-leaders such as journalists.

• Include a maximum of three outside sources max. This assignment is practicing form and communication strategy above all. However, you also should not rely on a single source. In other words, synthesize information from a few different places.

Structure of the Issue Brief
Here are the key sections of the issue brief, with suggestions for their content and length. You should include each of these sections. For a few sections, we offer alternate names.

Addressee (max one paragraph)
• Provide details to help us understand the key audience or audiences for the issue brief.
• If it is not obvious, explain why you would provide an issue brief to this audience at this time (i.e. is there a particular window of opportunity?)
• Briefly describe the organization publishing the brief.
• This may affect the language you use or your emphasis on issue dimensions or affected groups. The brief should nevertheless aim to be even-handed in its analysis.
Executive Summary / Key Take-aways
• Should convey the key points if someone reads just this part.
Introduction / What is at stake
• Quickly and clearly introduce the core issue, its urgency as a policy matter, and the key topics or questions that you will be tackling.
• You may explain why this brief was written now.
Issue and Policy Analysis
• This will be the longest section, as it should provide significant, evidence-based information that explains the importance of the issue for policymakers, the key harms/risks/opportunities/ benefits, and assessment of existing policies. Emphases may differ for different topics.
• If appropriate, use multiple headings to cover different topics.
• If applicable, clarify which groups or stakeholders are particularly affected by the issue, or particularly likely to be involved in a policy change.
• Do synthesize evidence or views from several sources. If there are particularly relevant studies, you might explain their findings.
• Include analysis of policy options. Alternately, provide broader insights on potential policy responses, such as proposing key aims or criteria that should inform policy options, or suggesting which institutions should lead on a policy response.
Conclusion / Next Steps
• Briefly summarize key points from the analysis. You may propose additional steps for understanding the issue, such as areas for future study or key voices or communities need to be brought into policy development.
• Unlike some briefs, in an issue brief you should not recommend a single policy option.

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