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Policy capability

Policy agencies need to keep pace with current issues and prepare for the challenges ahead. Investing in continuous improvement enables maintaining their capability to produce good policy advice. The key resources we've created to help with that are:

The Policy Capability Framework

The Policy Capability Framework is an organisational improvement tool. It describes the key components of policy capability needed by a government agency or team to produce quality policy advice. The Framework provides a common language for government agencies to reflect on policy performance and identify areas for improvement, while being flexible enough to apply in different operating contexts. Senior leaders and policy managers use the Framework to improve the policy performance of their teams and agencies.

The Policy Capability Framework is one of three improvement frameworks co-designed with the policy community to help government agencies improve their policy quality and capability. The other two frameworks are the Policy Quality Framework outlining what quality policy advice means, and the Policy Skills Framework outlining the skills policy practitioners require to deliver quality advice. All three frameworks have been endorsed by the Head of the Policy Profession and the Tier 2 Policy Leaders' Network.

Overview of the Policy Capability Framework

At the highest level, the Policy Capability Framework identifies four components of policy capability.


Each of the four components of policy capability is made up of a number of elements, outlined below. For each element, there are lead questions and lines of inquiry to guide government agencies and teams in conversations about policy performance.

Element Lead question Lines of inquiry
Frontline staff / delivery units How well does the policy team engage across the agency, including with delivery units?

Are policy processes characterised by end-to-end partnerships between policy team and other agency staff?

How well does the policy team engage with delivery / frontline units (including delivery staff in other agencies where applicable) to understand the interface with end users and implementation requirements?

Does implementation typically proceed smoothly, with room for iteration, without being negatively impacted by unforeseen issues?

Why use the Policy Capability Framework

The Policy Capability Framework can help government agencies and policy teams:

  • identify policy capability issues early and address them before they become problems (we recommend applying the Framework at least every two years)
  • shift the conversation from wanting to get better at producing policy advice to focusing on specific capabilities and improvement actions to achieve this
  • align with best practice and build consistency in how the New Zealand government thinks about policy capability to support collaboration across the policy system.

Tools and applications

The Policy Capability Framework has a number of associated tools that can help government agencies and policy teams apply the Framework from a 'light touch' to 'deep dive' approach.

There are different ways to apply the Framework:

  • Self-review – to support internal conversations on policy capability within a government agency or policy team.
  • 'Critical friend' peer review – including someone from an external agency in the review team to provide an external perspective and support cross-fertilisation of ideas on how to improve policy capability.
  • Detailed capability assessment – internal or external assessment of the policy capability of the government agency or team. This includes prioritising areas for improvement and developing an action plan to improve capability.

The findings from applying the Policy Capability Framework can help inform the agency’s annual work programme for improving policy capability and quality. It can also be used as an input into the reconfiguration of policy teams or review of the policy-operating model in an agency.

Review tool

The review tool supports a detailed policy capability assessment of a government agency or team. It includes a maturity rating scale for each element of capability. The maturity questions help guide decisions on the priority areas for improvement, and the answers form the basis of an action plan to improve policy capability.

Policy Capability Framework: review tool – with maturity rankings

Light review tool

The 'light touch' review tool is a one-page resource to prompt high-level conversations about policy capability. It support conversations within a government agency or team on policy capability improvement.

Policy Capability Framework: light review tool

The 'How to' guide

Applying the Policy Capability Framework is a high-level guide that describes the framework’s main features and explains how to apply the tools below to improve policy capability.

Case studies

The following case studies provide insights into the ways government agencies can improve policy capability and quality.

Inland Revenue

Inland Revenue regularly applies the Policy Capability Framework as a health check, to maintain focus on the policy improvement outcomes it wants to achieve. The case study explores how Inland Revenue uses the Framework and how this has supported the agency's policy capability journey, including tips for other agencies.

Inland Revenue Case Study

Ministry for Culture and Heritage

The Policy Branch Manager from the Ministry of Culture and Heritage shares their journey to improve policy capabilty and quality. The case study explores what makes a top-performing policy function in a government agency and how to set expectations and create the right dynamics for policy improvement.

Ministry for Culture and Heritage Case Study

How the Policy Project can help

The Policy Project is available to work with individual policy teams and the overall policy functions in New Zealand government agencies – to support them in improving their policy capability. We are available to support you by:

  • leading sessions on applying the Policy Capability Framework to assess current policy capability, prioritise areas for improvement, and develop realistic action plans
  • being a member of the review team applying the Policy Capability Framework to provide an external perspective and share what other agencies are doing to improve policy capability
  • peer reviewing action plans to improve policy capability
  • running skill building sessions in priority areas for improvement, such as commissioning, policy advice, policy project initiation, and risk analysis.

We are happy to tailor our support to what works for your policy team, wherever you are at on your journey to being (or remaining) high-performing. You can contact us at

Conversations we’ve had about policy capability

The Policy Project frameworks and tools are informed by co-design workshops held with groups from across the policy community. The following links provide summaries of discussion held related to high-performing policy agencies.

Capability-building through training – collective action (October 2017)

People capability workshop (August 2017)

Agency Policy Capability Leads (May 2017)

Building policy capability (February 2017)

Intentionally Building our Policy People Capability across the system: people capability workshop (March 2015)

Last updated: 
Wednesday, 11 May 2022

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