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Participating in Federal Public Policy: A Guide for the Voluntary Sector

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Working with ministers

There are many ways to have access to Ministers. Whether it is direct contact through a personal or professional relationship or through a more indirect route such as through a mutual contact, these connections can be helpful in developing a relationship.

Your organization may be asked to prepare a briefing note for a minister or senior bureaucrat and/or to provide information to the public service staff working on the internal memos or briefings for that person. When your organization requests a meeting with a minister or senior staff, someone within the bureaucracy prepares an initial assessment of whether or not the meeting should take place and then follows up with prepared briefings with speaking points for the actual meeting. The more you work with public service staff to outline your concerns, the expected agenda and the questions you are likely to raise, the better prepared the minister will be to act on those concerns.

The following outlines what is involved in preparing a policy brief.

Policy Briefs 11


A briefing note is used to explain an issue, problem or subject and to then provide a position on the matter. If possible, the brief should include any research and analysis done on the impacts of the issue on diverse population groups. If you have an opportunity to provide briefing material for senior government officials, remember that the operative word is brief. The further your policy brief goes up the bureaucratic ladder, the shorter it needs to be. Its effectiveness will depend on the quality of information you provide and the extent to which it considers the public will, the priorities of government, the relationships you have built with people in the system and the credibility of your organization.

What to Include in a Policy Brief

- your organization's name, address and telephone number as well as its aims, membership and structure
- which committee should receive the brief
- the purpose of the brief -- be clear about why the note is being written
- your input in a logical order with the most critical information up front (keep it simple, complete and accurate)
- if you are commenting on a Bill, first state your general position and then make detailed comments on causes of concern
- list your recommendations
- provide examples, if relevant


  • Consider the brief from the recipient's point of view. Why is this important to him or her? What do they need to know in order to make a decision? What questions are they likely to have? What might their doubts be? What are the advantages of following your advice? Why should they believe you? What's in it for you? What's in it for them?
  • Ensure the following areas are covered in the policy brief:
    • an explanation of the issue
    • a summary of the facts so that the reader can become informed and/or make a decision
    • an explanation of the benefits of the desired position and why any potential alternatives are less advantageous
    • a conclusion that includes a short summary and your proposed course of action
  • Write the brief using plain language. Don't assume that the reader knows what you are talking about. Don't use acronyms (it is acceptable to use them if they are spelled out the first time they are used) or technical jargon.
  • Share your draft with someone who is not familiar with your area of work and ask him or her to tell you what he or she doesn't understand.
  • Attach additional information, such as background information or charts, as appendices.
  • Keep the full argument and analysis to three pages or less.
  • Keep it short because if you don't, someone else will shorten it for you.

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Last Updated: 2019-11-21