Policy Briefs – Ways to Present Research
This blog focuses on four important aspects of writing policy briefs, offering practical examples of their structure. In contrast to infographics and visual summaries, the clue is in the name with policy briefs.
The policy angle is key when producing a policy brief.
Therefore, research findings must be presented with the intention to be applicable or useful for real-life policy scenarios.
Are you ready to find out more about presenting research in a policy brief?
A simple Google search with the terms ‘policy brief’ generates 21,100,000 results in 31 seconds. This is a daunting number and can make it overwhelming to know where to start.
The top results are links from organisations such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), The International Development Research Council (IDRC), and the UK Parliament. This indicates an appetite from public sector organisations to receive research and evidence in a policy brief format.
What are policy briefs?
According to the FAO, a policy brief is a ‘is a concise summary of a particular issue, the policy options to deal with it, and some recommendations on the best option. It is aimed at government policymakers and others who are interested in formulating or influencing policy’.
What to focus on when presenting research in a policy brief
Step 1: Understand the current policy landscape
The most important step, even before writing the brief, is to understand the current policy landscape. What is the current social and political climate? Take the pulse of the situation and understand the tensions. This ensures your policy brief is rooted in reality and portrays a fair grasp of what is going on.
This does not mean that researchers should write ‘policy-based evidence’. This is criticism of researchers who let policy influence their research, instead of the other way around.
Understanding the policy landscape means first and foremost being realistic towards the policy situation. My senior in Brussels would always say that there are only a handful of people involved in a policy decision. Take time to understand the policy landscape, identify key players, and analyse their position on the topic. This will allow you to make informed decisions about how you present your findings.
Step 2: Decide what kind of policy brief you want to write
There are three types of policy briefs.
First, the one that never reads because the author failed to go through step 1.
Second, there is the advocacy brief in which the author argues in favour of a particular course of action.
Third, there is the objective brief, which gives balanced information for the policymaker to make up their mind.
Depending on which type of brief you write, a policy brief should meet these objectives:
Step 3: Write the brief using clear language
Writing a piece of 800 words should be easier than a 10,000 word-journal. The challenge, however, is rephrasing the knowledge in a format with maximum impact, in plain and clear language.
As David Christian Rose reveals in his recent article ‘Research use in Parliament – the need for simple, concise and relevant knowledge’, policymakers are in dire need of material that is easily digestible and actionable. In many ways, this comes down to the language used and the accessibility of the material produced.
Below is an infographic (source) that summarised the 6 main ingredients of a policy brief, and ideally clear language should be used throughout.
Step 4: Share your policy brief with the key people
Now that you have gone through all the effort of researching for and writing your policy brief, the key is to send your brief to relevant people and start a conversation. Below are 9 ideas of how you can disseminate your policy brief or include it in your existing impact efforts:
This post is third in a 4-blog series on the main visual outputs useful for research communication: