Making your research accessible

How to write actionable policy recommendations

By 16/07/2013

When writing a policy brief, there are many things one has to consider: The language has to be just right, not too technical but professional. The length has to be brief yet informative and most of all it needs to speak to a pre-identified and targeted audience.

The policy brief has become the ‘go to’ tool in facilitating evidence based policies. The policy brief seeks to inform the decision maker of policy options that are evidence based, robust and will achieve the desired result in various scenarios. With the creation of each policy brief we hope that maybe, just maybe, we will get the right policy maker to read our compelling arguments, experience a eureka moment and spearhead the process of creating sound and effective policies with our research as their sword.  Unfortunately, policy influence rarely happens in this manner. What you have to try to do is identify your policy makers’ problems and give him/her actionable policy recommendations.

Here are some simple things to consider to ensure that your recommendations are practical and actionable.

1.   Ensure that you have identified your target audience beforehand. Understanding who your audience is and what their job entails is crucial. What is their sphere of influence and what change can they implement?

2.   Be very clear about what the current policy you want to change is.

3.   Set the scene: Identify the shortfalls of the current policy. Where is this policy failing, why and how can your recommendations improve the status quo?

4.   Be aware of how policies are made: remember that government policy actors are interested in making decisions that are practical, cost-effective and socially acceptable.

5.   If you are suggesting change ask yourself: What specifically needs to be changed? How will this change come about? What resources will be needed? Where will these resources come from? What is the overall benefit to both the policy maker and society in general? If your recommendations include these components they are much more likely to garner the required change.

6.   The word actionable suggests that your recommendations should be active. Try using language that is active rather than passive. Words such as use, engage, incorporate etc.

7.   Keep your policy recommendations short. Identify 3 recommendations and elaborate on these. Pick the three that are most practical and relevant for your target audience then focus on presenting these in the most actionable way.

8.   Make sure your research supports your recommendations. This may sound very obvious but policy makers will want to know that the evidence supports your assertions. Where you are providing an opinion, not supported by research, make this very clear.

9.   Ask yourself, is my recommendation viable? Does the recommendation seem feasible?


·       Global HIV/AIDS Initiatives Network, 2008. Policy Brief Guidelines.

·       Community – Based Monitoring System (CBMS) Network Coordinating Team. Guidelines for writing a policy brief.

·       FAO. Food Security Communications Toolkit.

·       MEASURE Evaluation, 2009. Making Research Findings Actionable: A quick reference to communicating health information for decision making.


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