The policy role within not-for-profit (NFP) organisations is a highly significant one, and yet the role and duties of policy workers are not well recognised or defined.
Who does the policy work in your organisation? What is the nature of that work, and how does it relate to your organisation’s purpose?
Some larger NFP organisations have dedicated staff with titles like Policy Officer, Manager or Director. Some link policy to research functions, and others to communications. In smaller entities, the role is often included in the work of the Executive Director or CEO, because they can’t afford dedicated staff. Historically, volunteer members met to discuss regulatory or policy developments and wrote letters and submissions, before meeting with policy makers to advocate their point of view. That may still be the case in some smaller organisations today.
Policy worker career backgrounds
In some NFPs, people win appointment to policy roles without necessarily having academic qualifications or on the job training to prepare them for the work. Consequently, they are left to find out how to do the job through the process of doing it.
It’s a very effective learning technique to ‘learn from your mistakes’ because no one wants to repeat embarrassing errors. Learning from other people’s mistakes is probably a less painful way of achieving similar outcomes, and developing skills and processes which are effective and efficient. Having a theoretical framework for your efforts is a valuable aid to focusing your work and energies, and in a complex and demanding policy environment, having a few tried and true methods can help you to survive and thrive.
Skills frameworks and Professional Development
The skills and abilities required of policy professionals are complex and varied, which can make planning professional development tricky as there are many areas to focus on. The following links offer several useful aids to assist you when planning your professional development program:
- The NZ Government Policy Project has identified a skills framework for Government employed policy personnel. The resources offered include a framework for mapping your skills and assessing whether you are at the ‘developing’, ‘practising’ or ‘expert’ levels in three main domains: knowledge, applied skills and behaviour.
- The UK’s Civil Service Learning organisation offers their Policy, Skills & Knowledge Framework as part of the overarching Civil Service Competency Framework. They too describe skills in each of the main domains (evidence, politics and delivery) at three key developmental levels, like the NZ Policy Project.
- The Western Australian Public Sector Commission offers their skills framework under the following ‘policy function’ headings:
- Strategic alignment
- Critical thinking
- Communication and engagement, and
- Policy implementation and engagement.
NFP organisations may be advocating for policy change or retention of the status quo, or they may be engaged in partnership or ‘codesign’ projects with government agencies. These activities require insight into agency policy perspectives and the capacity to speak their language. Whatever their titles, NFP policy workers need access to professional development programs designed to address these skill development requirements, and referring to the policy skills frameworks outlined above can be helpful when planning professional development programs for policy personnel.
PolGovPro workshops aim to help policy workers in associations, charities and other not-for-profit entities develop practical skills that improve the quality and effectiveness of their efforts.