The day I became a Policy Officer

When/if I do get the chance to start doing something systemsy, I’ll come back here and type about it.

Ideally that would be next week but I doubt it as it has been almost two years since I’ve had a beneficial effect on core council services, i.e. the purpose of the council, so don’t hold your breath that the next post will be next week. [link]

Since I wrote those peremptory words exactly 2 years ago, I’ve started blogging at work.

Or should I say for work. This is how.

As I’ve said before I’M A POLICY OFFICER! Like an Army Officer or a Police Officer except useless and no uniform.

The job of a policy officer isn’t to produce policies. It is to scout around for government, Non-governmental Organisations, think-tank and other types of press releases announcements and using the power of ctrl-c ctrl-v you take a 150 page report in impenetrable language and turn it into a 6 page report of impenetrable language.
God knows why, and who they are for, if asked I’m guessing the answer would be “everybody with an interest“, which is as close as you can get to saying “I don’t know” without actually saying the words.

So I was asked to do My First Policy Brief! Sitting with a blank word document open on one side of the screen and the PDF of the original press release nestling snuggily against it on the other. My job being to squeeze the 62 pages on the right of the screen into a couple of pages on the left. Autonomy, mastery and purpose here we come.



I sat there for quite a bit. I tried typing headings as below.

  • Background
  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Highlights

But that’s as far as I got. I couldn’t type anything else underneath it. I was trying to be a Policy Officer, with all those wordsmithing skills of taking a slender barely there truth and slathering on top great gobs of nonsense words, all in the passive voice (eg “The Council is recommended by…“) so as to distance yourself from anything inadvertently said within.


Quick! You can still see the toast! More words! MORE WORDS!

So I just didn’t try, and thought I would blog it instead, in a Word document though, not here. i.e. lashings of sarcasm, pictures stolen from the internet and a conversational tone. Not a paragraph to be seen.

At least 2 people, one of whom is me, says it’s fantastic which neatly demonstrates the poor quality we are used to.

Last week a possible customer of  these sorts of things was being shown around the office, a cabinet member of the new party in charge.  When being introduced to my bit she quite rightly mentioned, nicely in conversation, how troubling it is receiving every week loads of reports, all hundreds of pages long, and feeling that you HAD to read them all in case there was something really important that would be missed in it somewhere.

In the few occasions we have been able to speak directly with the political side of our “customers”, Councillors, this is something that has been the number one comment. Documents we produce are too long, too wordy and too impenetrable. I love that they notice this, that it is actually WE who are hiding saying very little behind saying an awful lot. A common criticism made against politicians, but actually practised by staff who work for them.

Here it is then. My First Policy Brief. I’m going to continue blogging for work, until somebody tells me to stop.


This entry was posted in communication, me doing it, public sector and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to The day I became a Policy Officer

  1. Maz Iqbal says:

    Fantastic. I say that you have a gift in effective communication. Are you making the most of your gift?

    All the best.


  2. ThinkPurpose says:

    I don’t know! Am I?


  3. It’s dirty work, but someone’s gotta do it …

    Great post


  4. dancarins says:

    But doesn’t the DEMOS report have an executive summary? Are you summarising a summary for people who say they don’t have time? Why don’t they have time? They should have time.

    Say we have the capacity to absorb 100 units of information a day without feeling overwhelmed but also feeling that we are contributing and learning useful and interesting information. An executive summary is worth 10 units, the full report is worth 100, but a policy brief is worth 5.

    Won’t we then just get to a point where your customers simply read 20 policy briefs rather than 10 executive summaries or 1 full report, and still complain of not having any time to read reports? Then they’ll want summaries of the summarised summary (2 units), or DEMOS will start publishing an eyelid tattoo version as well as pdf, print-version and podcast for the people who are so busy they want to read reports when they’re catching some I’m-so-busy-aren’t-I-so-alpha-male-I-don’t-even-sleep sleep (1 unit). But I guess that’s the same as the tweet version (1 unit), just with a smaller font size.

    Someone famous probably said that we have a natural capacity to worry, and even if we are in the happiest, most relaxed circumstances in the history of human existence, we’d still bitch about when our perfectly pleasant neighbours sneeze, a five-second wait at a red light or when we only spend 45 minutes with our children rather than 1 hour at the end of busy day.


  5. ThinkPurpose says:

    Note I didn’t mention “purpose” in this post.


  6. richardprichard says:

    Hooooray !

    Can’t wait until you do something on town planning ….


  7. knittingfog says:

    TP, this post is just bliss. You have reached the summit of Mount Policy, and if you’re not immediately put on fast-track promotion to head of media/policy/PR then your organisation should be ashamed of themselves.


    • ThinkPurpose says:

      I don’t think I’d want to be, their life span is measured in months in my place, rather than years.
      Thanks anyway, I’m going to show this to the new gaffer, who was born a Policy Officer, so he can guffaw in my face.


  8. chris myers says:

    I loved this too, especially the bit about starting out with the press release! Thing is, the media team and the policy wonks need to know THEY ARE ON THE SAME side. But perhaps my point of view is affected because I remember you when you were a policy wonk!


  9. escaped local government just in time says:

    actually I think this is great (and I’ll throw a version of it at my team), but ultimately how do we get round the problem of Policy Officers’ jobs being to tell the local politicians what they have to do to keep on the right side of “The Centre” and get money and support from them (or from the next them, should Labour win the general election. What is the solution to changing local government so that it’s purpose is to serve local people when the system is set up to make sure that can’t happen and lots of very powerful forces want to keep it that way?


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