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Think Like a Policymaker – How Public Servants Learn and Communicate

Key Takeaways: 

  1. Public servants are time-poor – if they’re learning, it’s maybe 1-2 hours a week. They want a 700-800 word max and a 5 minute reading time. 
  2. Stay as apolitical as possible. you might be feeling the polarization but people in government are resisting the pull to the left or right. most policy decisions either aren’t political or don’t have to be political. let bureaucrats just do good policy. show how another government has done it in an apolitical way.
  3. Solve for multiple problems and focus on concrete results. Avoid factual overload – people want to read about solutions, and people are okay with taking in complexity if it’s communicated simply. Use visuals, metaphors, stories, examples.
  4. Start to incorporate shorter summaries and infographics into your reports.

Slide Deck:

Session Summary: 

Government spending accounts for 40% of global GDP and the vast majority of that spending is decided by bureaucrats, not politicians. How do we get to that money?

How can public servants be most effective and efficient? As in politics, it’s not the best people or the best ideas that win, it’s the best sold ideas that win. 

When nonprofits engage with policymakers, it’s important to know how policymakers want to learn. 42% of public servants said they had no learning resources or not very helpful learning resources.

Like all of us, bureaucrats are time-pressed. Research shows that most policymakers would prefer to read short, direct studies of less than 1,000 words. Infographics help tremendously.

Here are some of policymakers’ motivations to learn: intrinsic motivation, personal interest, to stay ahead of the game, and to look good in front of their bosses.

In addition, policymakers are looking for ways to sell their ideas to citizens. When you can provide them with real-world examples and costs, they’re going to be more effective making that pitch.

Quotes, and Interesting Points: 

“American public servants are depressed. Even at the city level. And the number one way they get policy ideas? Google. So let’s make Prozac for public service, and talk about what’s working and help policymakers connect to each other.”


Eight Tips for Communicating Ideas to Busy Policymakers

These notes were captured by Natalia Ciolko and have been reviewed by the presenters Lisa Witter, and David Brotherton.


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