How to Write a Public Policy Analysis

by Shane Hall

Public policy analysis explores a public issue or problem and assesses a set of proposed government actions for addressing the matter. The policy analyst describes the background and status of an issue and then employs research and analysis to determine a viable government action for resolving the problem. The analysis compares policy options, weighing their expected costs and benefits. You can write a policy analysis on any public issue of interest, from education and health care to pollution controls and counterterrorism measures. College students in social science classes write policy analyses to deepen their understanding of contemporary issues. Professional analysts prepare these reports to provide policy makers with information to guide their decisions on public problems.

Identify and describe the issue in question. Explain the significance of the issue and discuss its history, being sure to include previous policy actions, if any, taken to address the matter. You also should make a case for government measures to address the issue by discussing the possible consequences of inaction.

Outline the criteria you will use for comparing policy options. Criteria can include economic benefits, legality and efficiency. Political viability must be considered, as well. Identify the major stakeholders–the individuals and interest groups most likely to be affected by policy measures to address the issue in question.

Specify the policy options for addressing the issue in question, then compare the proposals and describe the manner and extent to which each option meets the established criteria. This section will form the main body of your policy analysis report. Where applicable, use charts and graphs to compare and contrast policy alternatives. Make sure your policy options consist of specific legislative or administrative measures, designed to target the issue in question, rather than broad, sweeping social, economic or political reforms. In your analysis, consider both the immediate and long-term results of the policy options.

Write a conclusion section that recommends a specific policy proposal from the range of alternatives considered in the analysis. This section should describe why this option is the preferred approach, using facts and evidence from the analysis for support. Include political considerations as well, identifying how the major stakeholders could be affected by this policy.

Complete an executive summary. This should be a concise (100 to 300 words) overview of the issue that briefly covers all elements of the report. It should highlight the recommended policy option. Your executive summary should be clear and accessible to a wide audience, avoiding technical jargon and complex issue details.

Warning

  • Remember that a public policy analysis does not evaluate the performance of an existing government program. Program evaluation and policy analysis use many of the same tools and methodologies, but answer different questions. Policy analysis assesses possible solutions for public problems, while program evaluation analyzes the performance of existing public programs.

References

  • "Public Policy Analysis: An Introduction"; William Dunn; 1995.

About the Author

Shane Hall is a writer and research analyst with more than 20 years of experience. His work has appeared in "Brookings Papers on Education Policy," "Population and Development" and various Texas newspapers. Hall has a Doctor of Philosophy in political economy and is a former college instructor of economics and political science.

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