Tick-box exercise: three policy advice checklists to test your brief against

By David Donaldson

Monday March 16, 2020

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Does the minister have enough information to make a decision? Have you thought about how to motivate your target audience? Here are three policy advice checklists to consider before handing over your brief.

Policy advice is one of the public service’s core functions, but its quality varies.

While there’s no objective way of grading advice, asking yourself a series of questions is a useful way to clarify and strengthen your ideas.

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Here are three checklists to help determine whether you’ve done all you can.

1. The five-minute checklist

The federal Department of Environment and Energy has a five-minute policy checklist for APS and executive level staff to consider when developing policy advice:

In developing the policy output (e.g. briefing) have you:

  1. Clarified the issue/problem to be addressed with your supervisor or the executive?
  2. Identified and consulted relevant people/areas (including external to the department) for advice/input?
  3. Evaluated all available evidence/data and identified any gaps?
  4. Considered alternative options to the one you are recommending?
  5. Identified all the risks and associated mitigation strategies and provided clear advice on these?
  6. Asked a team member, or someone else in your branch or division, to review your advice for completeness and to check facts, figures and costings? (if you have time, consider whether there are appropriate people outside your division for a fresher set of eyes)
  7. Identified appropriate management review processes and made sure management is available to review your work?
  8. Ensured that the process you have followed, and method of devising advice, has been documented appropriately and has gone on file?

2. Delivering great advice starter kit

The Australian government’s Policy Hub has its own version, the Delivering great advice starter kit, which can be used to test your advice across four categories: whether it’s clear on intent, well-informed, practical to implement and influential.

Clear on intent

  • Do you understand the ‘why’?
  • How will you ensure the intent doesn’t get lost throughout the policy lifecycle?
  • Who will this policy impact?
  • How will you measure if this policy delivers a successful outcome?
  • What is the policy trying to achieve?

Well-informed

  • How do you know what you don’t know?
  • How have you included a diverse range of perspectives?
  • How have you understood the needs of the people impacted by the policy?
  • Who has done something like this before and how did it work out for them?
  • How will you share what you learn with others?

Practical to implement

  • How has this been tested?
  • Who made you the expert?
  • How does your policy proposal impact implementers and end users?
  • How do you know it will work?

Influential

  • In one sentence, what’s the key message of your advice?
  • How will your advice cut through in the current context?
  • Who else has the ear of your minister and what are they saying?
  • Is your advice honest about different constraints and risks?
  • How can you present your advice so it has the most impact?
  • How will you motivate your target audience?

3. Checklist on policy development

This one is a little old, but comprehensive.

The Australian National Audit Office included a checklist in its Developing policy advice report in 2001, which draws on a few sources.

“The checklist is not exhaustive,” says ANAO.

“Rather, it aims to enhance the management of the development of policy advice across the APS. Nor is the checklist sequential as components of each section can occur concurrently.”

Policy advice objectives

  • Has the objective been considered?
  • Have the problems with the status quo been identified?
  • Does the minister agree that a policy problem exists?
  • Have impediments to achieving the objective been acknowledged?
  • Are there in existence any related policies that need to be taken into consideration?
  • Are objectives and goals explicit and clear?
  • Should this matter go to cabinet?

Managing the policy cycle

  • Are staff allocated responsibility for coordinating policy responses within the agency?
  • Is there appropriate project planning and does it include a risk assessment?
  • Does the risk assessment address:
    -risks relating to coordinating within the agency?
    -risks relating to coordinating with other agencies?
    -risks relating to a whole-of-government approach?
  • Is the need for procedural integrity, and the separation of political and policy roles, understood and built into the policy development process?
  • Is the project timetable realistic?
  • Is the required funding properly targeted and fully budgeted?
  • Have information needs been determined?
  • Have cost effective strategies been established to fulfil information needs?
  • Are policy processes adequately documented? (including electronic documents)

Policy analysis

  • Has the issue been accurately formulated?
  • Are adequate skills available for well-rounded analysis?
  • Has the search for alternatives been thorough?
  • Have the appropriate analytical tools been used for the issue?
  • Have resource constraints, legal requirements and external accountability been taken into account in the policy advice?
  • Is there a superior alternative?
  • Has implementation been considered in policy design?
  • Have the limitations in the information been acknowledged?
  • Have relevant guidelines and procedures been identified and followed?

Consultation

  • Are the objectives of the consultation process clear?
  • Is the consultation process clearly linked to when and how a decision will be made?
  • Has an appropriate information, consultation, partnership, delegation or control strategy been developed?
  • Does the consultation timetable allow sufficient scope for meaningful input and consideration?
  • Are the resources to be committed to consultation commensurate with the importance of the problem?
  • Have all relevant stakeholders been identified and included?
  • Is appropriate access provided to the consultation process?
  • Has feedback from consultation been incorporated into policy advice?
  • Is the advice consistent with the public interest?

Coordination

  • Are proposals logical, well considered and consistent with other government initiatives?
  • Have all government agencies with an interest been identified?
  • Have appropriate mechanisms been created to test their thinking and gain support?
  • Have the regional, employment, industrial, equity and fairness consequences of the proposal been worked through?

Advice

  • Is the submission in the appropriate format?
  • Will the minister hear about relevant issues in a timely manner?
  • Is the aim of the advice clearly set?
  • Is the minister informed about contending opinion on the matter?
  • Are clear, different options available and presented honestly to the minister?
  • Are the consequences of each option provided to the minister?
  • Are features of the possible solution unethical, inequitable, inefficient, inappropriate or inexpedient?
  • Does the minister have sufficient information to make a decision?
    -budget information
    -staff and other resource requirements
    -legal implications
    -social, environmental and other impacts
    -technical data
    -consultation and its results
  • Is the information provided to the minister balanced and accurate?
  • Have the client’s views and priorities been taken into account?
  • Is the proposal cost effective?
  • Have policy alternatives been considered?

Review

  • Has feedback from the minister been received?
  • Has the policy process been reviewed internally?
  • Has an external party reviewed the policy process?
  • Have the results of the review been captured and disseminated?

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