Giving Policy Advice – A Senior Minister's View
Students were given a unique ministerial insight into how best to provide policy advice on 21 September, in a seminar with the Rt Hon Douglas Alexander MP, Shadow Foreign Secretary.
The former Cabinet minister described the purpose of a policy brief and its place in the policy-making process. He discussed the dynamic ‘ecology of information’ within which the policy advisor’s role is to sift and present information to enable policy-makers to exercise political judgment.
Emphasising that a policy paper’s ‘utility is practical not theoretical’, Alexander also led a practical session on formulating a policy brief. Reflecting on his own experiences as a busy minister with a box of papers to read, and urgent decisions pending, he urged students to focus on formulating advice that is simultaneously concise, comprehensive and credible. ‘The skill of this course that I hope you leave with, is a capacity to balance a depth of knowledge with a facility to communicate.’
The practical relevance of the experiences he shared were highly valued by students. Ye Jin Kang, currently studying for the MPP, 'particularly enjoyed Alexander's seminar, where lessons were imparted through engaging stories. This distinctively helped in understanding how to apply theory to real situations we could encounter as future policymakers.'
Douglas Alexander is Shadow Foreign Secretary. He has been an MP since 1997, and has been a cabinet member as Secretary of State for Scotland, Secretary of State for Transport and Secretary of State for International Development.