This 14-page scoping review by Diana Arnautu and Christian Dagenais, two scientists at the University of Montreal, looks at the use and effectiveness of policy briefs. The review looks at what decision-makers think about policy briefs, how they use them and which formats and components are most effective.
Overall, the study shows that policy briefs are considered useful by policymakers. They are often used as a starting point for thinking about policies, and they help facilitate discussions. Policy briefs help decision-makers understand the different aspects of a situation, they can inform policymaking and raise awareness of certain issues.
If you’d like to write an effective policy brief, always have your audience in mind and tailor the brief to them. Additionally, decision-makers are more likely to use your policy brief if you directly target them. For example, the review suggests sending an individualised email to policymakers before you forward them the policy brief. If you’re organising a workshop for policymakers, make sure you send them the briefs in advance and arrange follow-up meetings to receive feedback.
Think about the format: policymakers favour briefs written in clear, simple language without jargon. Keep your sentences short and make sure your findings are understandable, easy to access and visually appealing. For instance, you can convey information in various ways, such as charts, bullet points, graphs and photos. Try to construct it around a key message, focus on local information (rather than generic global statements) and provide compelling and high-quality evidence. Lastly, remember that the exact format of the policy brief doesn’t matter as much as its clarity.
Policymakers also prefer briefs written by authoritative and credible authors, rather than pieces written by unnamed researchers. If you partner with a trustworthy institution in your field, it will improve the legitimacy of your message and be more likely to attract the attention of your target policymakers.
Finally, put your data into context instead of just presenting facts and statistics. Propose a realistic plan for concrete action with strategies and tools needed for it – if your brief is too general, it is unlikely that it will result in any action.
To sum up, policy briefs are valuable for decision-makers, but we shouldn’t consider them one-size-fits-all solutions. We should aim to write them with the reader in mind and tailor them to their needs. Be realistic: policymaking is a complex process that isn’t influenced just by one policy brief – however well written, but they can help policymakers form an opinion on a new topic, even if they aren’t very effective in changing previously held beliefs and views.
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