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Policy skills

Policy Skills

Good policy advice depends on skilled policy practitioners - able to analyse and respond to policy challenges and come up with workable solutions that will add value to the lives of people in New Zealand.

To do this, policy practitioners need a diverse set of skills. This includes needing to understand the lives of the people they are designing policy for, by engaging with citizens and stakeholders. They need to collect and interpret the available evidence and data. They need to be savvy about the political context and understand what government wants to achieve. They need to be able to identify the right advice - about which solution will best achieve policy objectives. And they need to be able to communicate that advice to decision-makers in the most effective way.

The Policy Skills Framework

The Policy Skills Framework sets out the full extent of the knowledge, applied skills and behaviours great policy practitioners need – from new professionals developing their policy craft to seasoned experts at the top of their game. It is designed to help policy practitioners assess and strengthen their own skills profile, and to help policy managers assess and build high performing teams.

Below is a high-level summary of the Policy Skills Framework. This identifies the breadth of knowledge, skills and behaviour an effective policy practitioner requires.

For each of the 15 elements of knowledge, applied skills and behaviours identified above, the full Policy Skills Framework:

  • provides a one-sentence descriptor of what that element encompasses, overall
  • allows for varying levels of experience and competence in each element (the developing, practising and expert/leading levels), and
  • for each competency level, provides detailed descriptors of what a policy practitioner should be capable of.

The Policy Skills 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 Capability Framework – outlining what government agencies with policy functions need to focus on to produce quality policy advice. All three frameworks have been endorsed by the Head of the Policy Profession and the Tier 2 Policy Leaders’ Network.

Tools and applications

The Policy Skills Framework has a number of associated tools that can help individual policy practitioners and their managers map, develop and embed policy skills.

Mapping policy skills

Map your policy skills profile – If you’re a policy advisor you can use this tool to help you map your current policy skills – identifying which competency level you are currently at, for each element of the Policy Skills Framework. This tool will also help you identify some of the skills you’d like to develop to a greater depth.

Map your team’s policy skills profile – If you’re a policy manager, you can use this tool to map your team’s skills – identifying the mix of levels of competency available to you in each skill area. Comparing this with the skill demands of your work programme can then help you to identify how fit for purpose your policy team is, and any skill gaps.  This then helps you tackle skill gaps in two ways. First by helping you identify which skills you’d like your team to develop further. Second by helping you identify which skills to particularly look for when recruiting new team members, or project-specific contractors.

Developing policy skills

Development Pathways Tool

The Policy Skills Framework describes what policy knowledge, skills and behaviour great policy practitioners need, while the Development Pathways Tool shows how you can develop the skills you've identified. The Development Pathways Tool identifies the actions a policy practitioner can take, for each of the 15 skill elements, to develop their skills at the three different levels of practice – developing, practising and expert/leading. These actions are organised under three ways of learning – on the job experience, learning from others, and through formal training.

Check out the Development Pathways Tool. You and your manager can use it, in conjunction with the Policy Skills Framework, to enrich your individual development discussions. These tools will help you focus on which skills to develop, to which level, and how best to build your skills.

Policy Methods Toolbox resources

The Policy Methods Toolbox also provides information and tools to learn more about methods you can use to help improve specific skills. For example, if you’re interested in improving your engagement and collaboration skills, there’s a section in the toolbox about community engagement methods. Or, if you are interested in improving your analysis skills, the section on behavioural insights is worth checking out.

Embedding policy skills

There's a range of networks and other resources available where agencies can learn more about how to embed policy skills.

Policy Training Network

The Policy Training Network meets quarterly to discuss ways to lift skills and embed policy capability. Its members are designated public servants with a role or an interest in lifting capability within their agencies. Every agency is represented on the network, so find your agency contact to learn more about the Policy Training Network, or email us on

Policy Capability Framework - people capability review

The Policy Project can help policy agencies and teams undertake a People Capability Review. Using the organisationally-focused Policy Capability Framework and the 'people capability' element of the deep dive capability review tool, the Policy Project team can work with your agency to identify how well your agency or team ensures you have the right skills in the right place, at the right time. We can help you evaluate key success factors - like team make-up and diversity, career paths and progression, development and training, and work allocation. We can also help you assess any barriers to lifting people capability, and establish a plan for improvement. If you're interested in learning more about how we can help your agency or team please contact us on

Have a look at our 'Deep dive' policy capability review tool.

Conversations we’ve had about a skilled policy workforce

The Policy Project frameworks and tools are informed by co-design workshops held with groups from across the policy community.

Capability-building through training – collective action

Pathways to policy people capability

Last updated: 
Friday, 27 November 2020

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