NZ’s Policy Project of value to applicants

New Zealand’s Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet established a Policy Project to ‘build a high performing policy system that supports and enables good government decision making’.

As responding to policy-related jobs can be challenging for applicants, this project offers some valuable material. Project documents point out that in New Zealand there is no common view of what great policy advice looks like and what goes into it, nor a common view of what a great policy analyst/Senior/principal analyst/advisor looks like. While Queensland and Western Australia have developed policy capability frameworks [although Queensland’s appears to be no longer available], there appears to be no systematic approach in Australia comparable to New Zealand.

A 2014 document, The Policy Project – responsive today, reshaping tomorrow, outlines the current state of NZ’s policy system and answers the question: What does policy excellence look like? The answer is: [p. 10]

  • ‘Policy creates public value to improve the lives of New Zealanders.
  • Free, frank, fearless, joined-up advice supports effective decision making by identifying the ‘big cross agency policy challenges’, finding the ‘game changers’, and ensuring prioritisation and alignment across government.
  • Policy is informed by evidence and user needs – using proven and state-of-the-art tools and frameworks (user insights, meta data), evaluation and feedback loops (citizens/business/frontline staff).
  • A high performing policy ‘profession’ provides a core function of government, attracts top talent, provides foundation training and professional development, identifies and grows policy leaders, and has a capacity to deploy capability to where it is needed most.
  • Quality advice is the product of quality processes from analysis to advice to implementation – from transactional services to the transformational “high art” of policy leadership.
  • Policy stewardship :

– Policy capability – we act in the collective interests of government and have the capacity to offer free and frank advice to successive governments, constitutional conventions are clear and understood

– Policy performance – we deliver fresh ideas, using innovative approaches, we use evidence by default, we know what interventions work and we work together and with others to achieve results/collective impact now and for the future

– Policy system – we work together to sustain and continuously improve the policy system.’

The Project has established three improvement frameworks:

  • The Policy Capability Framework
  • The Policy Skills Framework
  • The Policy Quality Framework.

Tools and applications are provided for each framework. They include tools for both individuals and teams.

The Policy Capability Framework

The Policy Capability Framework is a performance improvement tool rather than a how-to guide. It covers four main dimensions of capability that were identified by policy leaders as critical in a high performing policy shop:

  • stewardship
  • policy quality system
  • people capability
  • engagement and customer centricity.’

Policy leaders wanted a tool that could be used to discuss the current state of policy units’ capability, strengths and weaknesses, improvement strategies, priorities and sequencing. The initial vision of the PCF was a capability maturity model. The current prototype fills in aspects of capability maturity with the ability to rank components and overall capability from: informal, to enabled, to practised, to embedded. However a more robust rating scale needs to be developed.

The Policy Quality Framework

The Policy Quality Framework offers characteristics of quality policy advice and a list of enablers for providing good advice. The characteristics of quality policy advice are:

  • The full story: advice engages the decision-maker and tells the full story
  • Inputs: advice is informed by evidence and insights and is analytically sound
  • Context: advice is put in context, next to the desired future state and exposes risks, opportunities and implications for affected groups.
  • The best option: advice balances what is desirable, can be delivered and is cost-effective stop

For each of these four qualities several specific descriptors are provided.

Advice that is high-quality and influential is more likely when these factors apply:

  • We understand our story and what works.
  • Work programming and resourcing is deliberately managed.
  • Quality assurance is habitual and supported by culture, systems and processes.
  • We generate and draw on relationship capital.
  • Individual pieces of work or policy projects are commissioned, planned and managed well.
  • Our conversation with decision-maker is ongoing, and aims for increased certainty.
  • We are agile and responsive while we are doing the work.
  • We seek out diverse perspectives to add rigour to our analysis and advice.

For each of these four enablers a range of specific descriptors is provided.

The Policy Skills Framework

This framework states that: ‘The delivery of high-quality responsive policy advice requires an ongoing supply of policy professionals with a common set of transferable core knowledge, policy skills and behaviours.’ The Policy Skills Framework is ‘a common description of the knowledge, skills and behaviours required of the modern policy professional. Rather than focusing on competencies, the framework outlines the mix of skills policy practitioners need. It allows for varying levels of experience in each component (from developing to expert/leading) acknowledging that individuals have different strengths (skills breadth and depth).’ [p. 2]

The framework can be used:

  • to map an individual’s skill set and levels of expertise, and use as a touchstone for development planning
  • to illustrate a range of policy career pathways
  • to demonstrate the skills drawn on at different stages of an end-to-end policy work stream
  • in recruitment processes.

The Policy Skills Framework comprises:

  • knowledge: what I know
  • applied skills: what I can do
  • behaviour how I am/act

These are underpinned by Public Service Foundations:

  • Core State sector legislation
  • Leadership success profile
  • Code of conduct
  • Treaty of Waitangi
  • Machinery of government.

For each of the knowledge, applied skills and behaviour sections, descriptors are provided.

Knowledge is made up of three areas:

  • domain knowledge: subject matter expertise
  • government systems and processes: cabinet and parliamentary processes and other requirements relevant to policy-making
  • political context and priorities: government priorities and relevant political context.

Applied skills is made up of nine areas:

  • evidence, insights and evaluation: gather and generate evidence to support analysis
  • analysis: applying analytical frameworks and methods of evidence
  • design for implementation: design policy proposals to include workable delivery and implementation option
  • plan and manage work: ensure advice is delivered using the right mix of resources and right touch project management method
  • advise and influence: deliver advice that is robust, free and frank, and compelling
  • strategic thinking: incorporate longer term and broad system perspectives to shape policy trajectories
  • feedback and coaching: constructive challenge and feedback to develop the capability of individuals and teams
  • communication: deliver clear and compelling messages fit for purpose and audience
  • engagement and collaboration: engage stakeholders and build relationship capital to understand diverse expectations, co-create solutions and support implementation.

Behaviour comprises three areas:

  • improvement and innovation: seek ways to do things better and do better things
  • agility: responsive to change and resilient to uncertainty and setbacks
  • political savvy: navigate issues, relationships and situations with sensitivity to the political context.

These three frameworks have value for Australian applicants seeking a career in government policy. They offer:

  • Increased understanding of the policy process and what constitutes quality policy.
  • Tools to identify relevant skills and knowledge for a policy career.
  • Tools to assess level of capability: developing, practising, expert/leading.
  • Behavioural descriptors to help with applications.
  • Insight to help with interpreting policy job descriptions.
  • Tools to help with career management.
Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist® specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.