Policy Analysis is What Policy Analysts Do

What do policy analysts in government do (besides the cheeky definition above offered by Arnold Meltsner [1976: vii])? And more to the point, what do practicing policy analysts think they do, and what do they think they should be doing?

In my recent dissertation research, I came at this question by asking practicing policy analysts to rank-order five policy analysts archetypes – connector, entrepreneur, listener, synthesizer, technician. These archetypes, and their descriptions, were derived from earlier work by Durning and Osuna (1994), Meltsner (1976) and Morçöl (2001).

The ‘synthesizer’ archetype is ranked consistently high as describing the role and orientation of policy analysts, followed closely by ‘connector’ and ‘entrepreneur’, with ‘listener’ and ‘technician’ rounding out the rankings. For more information on that research and to see the results, a working paper is available at http://www.whitehallpolicy.ca/mitacs/?p=338.

All Our Ideas” is a research project that takes a hybrid approach to gauging attitudes and opinions that combines the quantifiability of a survey and the openness of interviews. As of February 2012, about 1,500 surveys have been created.

As an experiment in using the “All Our Ideas” approach, and to further look at how policy analyst professionals think about their work, an “All Our Ideas” survey has been created at http://www.allourideas.org/policyanalyst

All Our Ideas page

The Policy Analyst Survey at All Our Ideas

Each refresh of the page will present you with two alternative definitions (out of a total of 18) of what a policy analyst does, and you’ll be asked to pick one. If you can’t decide, that’s an option too. And you can also add your own definition.

Thanks for playing. The results from this experiment will be posted here.


An example of a Recent (Old School) Briefing Note

Canadian federal Minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews, was in the news recently for taking a position that directly contradicts what his departmental officials had advised in a briefing note. That’s not really news, in my opinion: it’s both a minister’s right and their habit to disregard advice. The civil service proposed something … the minister decided something else. Dog bites man.

What will be of more interest to readers of this blog is that the story, reported by CBC News’s Power & Politics, includes an undated briefing note written for the Minister on this issue, acquired through an access to information request. Sections of the briefing note have been censored, but you can get a sense of the formatting and style which I would characterize as “old school” in its wordiness. Note that the Deputy Minister who approved this (not, we would note, authored it) was William Baker, former Deputy Minister of Public Safety who retired from the Public Service of Canada in July 2012 after a 33 year career.

Briefing Note re Gun Show Regulations