Working as a policy analyst is fascinating. I never thought I’d say that but now I see why it comes so highly recommended for career public servants (another thing I never thought I’d admit to). This lesson comes thanks to a fellow policy analyst.
I have a colleague who is bright; a good writer. He had done his homework and synthesized the ideas for a position paper. He had narrowed the possible recommendations down to two insightful conclusions after investigating legal precedent and interpreting various policy mechanisms. Yet he still wanted to keep researching. What was the hold-up? Was he suffering from analysis paralysis?
After an hour and a half discussion, we came to the realization that he felt perhaps others had already decided what the recommendation should contain. He was concerned that he would be betraying the authority of those around him if he wrote anything but what everyone supposed would be the final outcome. I wasn’t convinced.
While I agreed the decision-makers would mostly likely choose option A, I still felt it was important to write down at least one other option and the thinking behind it. Skipping to the conclusion just didn’t seem right. I couldn’t help myself; I encouraged him to write down both options, regardless of which one he felt would be chosen. After all, wasn’t the value in the analysis?
In fact, that left me with questions to consider for the entire weekend: Was I being a contrarian? Speaking out of turn? Was I wrong?
I believe our role as policy analysts is to research and present options. By only writing down the one we think will be chosen, we erode the traceability of a decision, and in so doing, undermine the democratic process. When we jump to an assumption of what others want or what they will decide, instead of presenting the various options, we’re giving our bosses poor information with which to make decisions.
Sometimes it takes a bit of courage to write down what nobody wants to hear. However, in the long run, this is what it means to be a policy analyst. Remember; the first draft is yours.