Back to top anchor

What policy topics are you interested in?

Start Right

Start Right

Start Right is also known as policy commissioning, policy initiation and project management for policy development.

On this page:

About Start Right
Why you should use it
What it involves
What you will get out of it
Ideal circumstances for use
Tools or concepts
Centres of expertise
Community of practice
References, guides and key readings

About Start Right

Start Right is a light touch approach to making the best start in policy projects. It is backed up by a growing list of tools to make your job easier in these early stages.

There are three parts to Start Right:

Commissioning Conversations – the beginning that provides the initial impetus and information for your policy project.

Exploration – the scalable set of initial actions at the early stages of a policy project (including data gathering, analysis and project planning).

Green Light – the confirmation (based on your Exploration) of the main parameters to begin your policy project.

Start Right was co-designed by the Policy Project and experienced New Zealand policy practitioners. Years of ex-post evaluation of policy projects show that practitioners can make the biggest, easiest improvements to focus, quality and impact through a small set of early adjustments.

Rework can be avoided by early and open agreement that helps everyone to work in alignment. It takes less effort to get it right at the start than to make changes later.

High quality policy advice is underpinned by appropriate behaviour during policy development, including openness, agility, courage, stewardship and political savvy.

Why you should use it

  • Start Right is a series of practical tools that which can be used as steps in starting on a policy project – including early policy Commissioning Conversations and formalising your policy project brief (which we refer to as your Green Light).
  • Start Right can be used to underpin and reinforce a culture of open thinking about the way that agencies develop policy.
  • Start Right is compatible with existing policy quality processes (including The Treasury’s Impact Analysis process for regulatory policy) as it was informed by leading agency approaches.
  • Even if your agency has existing processes in place, Start Right can still improve the analysis you should consider, or the content that might go into agency-specific processes.
  • Start Right was co-designed by experienced officials in the New Zealand central government. It reflects consideration of the range of specific conditions we work under.
  • Start Right is best practice. It focuses on behaviours and other considerations that can improve policy projects, rather than on compliance.
  • Start Right will be updated. Through working with the policy community, Start Right will get better over time.

What it involves

Start Right involves three components:

1. Commissioning Conversations

These conversations enable the commissioning manager to openly share the anticipated scope of the policy and the desired outcomes.

High quality conversations are the starting point for high-quality policy development. Commissioning Conversations are an input, rather than a directive or mandate in themselves.

Commissioning Conversations trigger policy work. They provide valuable information for exploring the issue and developing the project’s approach. They are an opportunity to start well by sharing vital information, and to build understanding and buy-in.

2. Exploration

An Exploration is the initial consideration given to a policy issue before doing in-depth work– rather than moving directly from commission to commencement. Exploration can make the difference between success and failure, or between getting it right the first time and repeated rework.

Exploration involves:

  • considering the main parameters of a policy project, including the objectives, development approach, deliverables and engagement options
  • making sure the policy team and main stakeholders have a shared understanding of those parameters
  • iteration and refinement (rather than a linear process).

3. Green Light

Getting a Green Light to proceed is the end result of the Start Right process, and the start of a successful policy project.

By agreeing the outputs of analysis that were identified during the Exploration, there will be clarity and mandate for the people who commissioned the advice, policy managers and teams to develop high quality advice.

The formality of the Green Light should be in proportion to the policy project size or risk, and may make use of existing agency practices (for example project mandate).

The Green Light or its equivalent should be revisited regularly and updated appropriately to reflect any significant changes in project parameters.

What you will get out of it

  • Greater clarity of the policy development aims, timeframes and deliverables.
  • Greater understanding and buy-in from all involved in the policy development process.
  • Less rework.
  • Higher quality policy advice.

Ideal circumstances for use

  • You’re starting out on a new policy project.
  • You’re working in a new area or with new people, skills or approaches.
  • You want to ensure the lessons from previous quality assurance processes feed into your usual way of working.


Start right was mostly developed with medium-sized policy projects in mind.

If your project is very large or very small, Start Right might be most useful as a guide to your thinking, but may need to be scaled up or down to suit.


Start Right Guide - The Start Right Guide is an overview of the Start Right approach. It provides rationale for Start Right, guidance on the three main components, and details on how to apply Start Right.

Tools or concepts

Commissioning Conversations


Green Light

Centres of expertise

Start Right was developed by the Policy Project.
For more information, email

Community of practice

Start Right will be updated and refined based on feedback from the policy community. If your agency would like to contribute to the development of Start Right by participating in our co-design groups, or by providing us with content, please email

References, guides and key readings

Policy Project’s Policy Quality Framework – Our overarching framework for policy quality, from which Start Right is derived.


Top of page

Last updated: 
Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Help us improve DPMC

Your feedback is very important in helping us improve the DPMC website.