Updated January 2023
What exactly is public policy and what does an analyst do?
In a nutshell, we can think of public policy as a system of laws, regulations, and courses of action implemented by government. These directives touch every aspect of our lives, including education, law enforcement, the allocation of environmental resources, healthcare, etc.
Ideally, public policy is developed to serve the public interest. But ideas about what is "best" for the public are always changing, influenced by shifting values, and evolving social, political, and economic needs.
Therefore, public policy is constantly in flux. Government commitments change. Public interests change.
How do decision-makers choose which new policies to introduce, and how best to develop and implement them?
Enter the public policy analyst.
Public policy analysts advise governments at all levels on which new policies are needed and what's involved in launching those policies.
In this post, we break down the core skills required to do this job well and truly thrive in the challenging, ever-complex sphere of policy leadership.
Every policy recommendation begins with in-depth research. Some of this research takes place on a regular basis and includes staying abreast of relevant current events, public opinions, and political developments.
Other aspects require deep dives into data, research studies, reports, surveys, and other informational resources.
Policy analysts must be comfortable using a range of research tools and methodologies in order to develop a thorough, evidence-based understanding of the problem at hand.
2. Data Analysis
Research and analysis go hand in hand for policy analysts. They must be able to cut through masses of information and diverging views, and actually make sense of the information they gather.
This generally involves analyzing and integrating large volumes of qualitative and quantitative data.
The goal? To get a clear and objective sense of the facts; to lay the groundwork for what must come next—proposing solutions.
3. Critical Thinking & Creativity
In order to develop feasible solutions and fully understand their pros and cons, policy analysts must synthesize all of the research they've gathered and analyzed and then add something to it: creative insight.
Creativity is necessary to envision innovative new solutions—but it must be balanced with a talent for critical thinking.
Only then can policy analysts anticipate the issues and needs that will arise from each approach they envision and identify the fairest and most effective option.
4. Persuasive Communication
Communication is key for policymakers, who must be able to present their ideas to government authorities in persuasive ways.
This includes both writing and verbal skills, and the ability to respond to feedback, criticism, and questions in productive ways.
Great policy advising doesn't happen from behind a desk. Analysts must go through the right channels, and be ready to make a compelling case for their views.
They must be good at breaking down the key messages and most salient points of their analysis and delivering those main ideas with precision and clarity.
Policymaking doesn't take place in a vacuum. Analysts must collaborate with colleagues, elected officials, specialists, and the public when developing policy proposals.
Strong interpersonal skills are an absolute must for this role, along with open-mindedness and patience.
Learn more about public policy and administration training
Interested in learning more about public policy work? Considering becoming a policy analyst or enrolling in public policy training?
Explore the Public Policy and Administration Certificate available online from Kompass Professional Development. This course can be spread out over seven to 14 weeks and is taught by experienced public policy leaders.
Explore the certificate, meet instructors, and browse a detailed course list below.