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Developing quality policy advice in the lead up to developing Cabinet policy proposals

Issue date: 
Monday, 20 April 2020
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This publication is part of the CabGuide.


“Advice given to Ministers must be honest, impartial, and include all relevant information. It must also be responsive to the priorities determined by the government of the day. Advice should be free and frank, and acknowledge any key information gaps, assumptions, risks or connections to other matters. This will allow Ministers to take decisions based on the best available evidence and appreciation of all the options and issues.”


Starting a policy project

Setting up a policy project for success from the start can make the difference between success and failure, or between getting it right the first time and rework.

A commissioning conversation with your manager is the best way to initiate a policy project of any size. It involves the exchange of ideas to define the project at the outset and develop a shared understanding of what’s being delivered. Seek out your agency’s commissioning template or use the Policy Project’s guide to effective Commissioning Conversations.

There are certain behaviours and steps that underpin high quality, timely and clear policy advice. This is especially true when they are applied early on in the policy process. The Policy Project’s Start Right Guide sets out a series of practical steps, such as seeking out a range of voices and opinions, to set up a policy project for success from the start.

Selecting the right method for a policy project

There are a multitude of analytical frameworks and methodologies to choose from when selecting an approach for a policy project. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses and the approach selected will impact the way the problem or opportunity is framed and understood.

The Policy Project’s Policy Methods Toolbox can help in selecting the right approach for a policy initiative. It includes a growing list of methods with information on the ideal circumstances for use, how to apply the method as part of the policy process, and when the support of someone with expertise is needed. The current content focuses on newer methods, such as design thinking, and will be expanded over time.

Developing quality policy advice

The Policy Project has developed a checklist to use when developing policy advice. The checklist helps to assess and improve the quality of policy advice, and whether it is fit for purpose. The checklist is based on the common standards for quality advice that are set out in the Policy Quality Framework. It incorporates up-to-date expectations for how policy advice reflects the Māori Crown relationship. There are four high-level standards for quality advice (see below) and more detailed elements that sit within each standard.

Quality advice structure flowchart image explaining the framework of Quality Advice through structured Context, Analysis, Advice and Action.

All policy agencies are required to use the Policy Quality Framework to assess the quality of their policy advice each year and include the results in their Annual Reports.

Free and frank advice

Free and frank advice is a key element of quality policy advice. Written policy advice papers and Regulatory Impact Assessments are important vehicles for free and frank advice. These should be full and include consideration of and advice on a comprehensive suite of options and their potential benefits, costs and risks. This will help inform your Minister’s Cabinet papers on policy proposals.  

To support a shared understanding of what free and frank advice means in principle and practice, the Public Service Commissioner has issued guidance on delivering effective free and frank advice.

Writing the advice

Seek out your agency’s policy templates and advice for developing policy papers for Ministers. The Cabinet policy paper template provides a blueprint for then drafting your Minister’s Cabinet papers. The Policy Project's document Writing for Ministers and Cabinet can also help with drafting good quality policy advice. 

Finding an example of a great policy advice paper and Cabinet paper can also be a good method for learning what Ministers expect.  Most agencies have policy quality advice panels who can provide examples of recent papers that have received a high score as part of the latest policy quality review round.

The role of quality assurance

Quality assurance involves checks throughout the development of policy advice in order to maintain and improve the quality of papers. It is not just a last minute editing check. Quality assurance is a key part of delivering quality advice, and planning quality assurance at the start of the policy process sets the project up for success. Through applying a fresh set of eyes and perspective, quality assurance supports the delivery of the best possible advice.

The Policy Project’s checklist based on the Policy Quality Framework has been designed for use when peer reviewing policy advice papers.

Refer to these pages for more information


Last updated: 
Monday, 20 April 2020

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