What does a Policy Analyst do?
A policy analyst is involved in the evaluation and formulation of policy. People in this field work at nonprofit organizations, government agencies, news outlets, and many other types of entities. The specific nature of the job depends on the needs of the employer. Skilled analysts can be in very high demand, especially if their skills lie in an area of policy that is of current social and political interest. Compensation packages are based on educational level and experience and can be very high for people with advanced degrees and special sets of skills.
Some policy analysts are involved in the work of developing new policy for government agencies and other organizations. They examine existing policy and are involved in research designed to identify the things that need to be addressed with new ones. These individuals are also involved in formulating the best approach to addressing these issues. This work can include compiling statistics, reading reports and synthesizing the information into a meaningful document, and helping with the actual drafting of policy language.
Others focus on analyzing existing policy. This can be done to look for areas that need improvement, to help people benefit from policy, and to learn more about the political and social landscape in a community. This type of analysis includes examining not only existing policy, but reports showing how it affects people, along with critiques of the policy from other analysts and organizations.
Working as a policy analyst requires a sharp eye for detail and an analytical mind that is capable of pursuing multiple lines of inquiry. Thinking about the potential applications and repercussions of policy can become extremely challenging. People who are able to think creatively while also applying their minds to complex analytical tasks can succeed in policy analysis careers. Being good at this job also requires an intimate knowledge of the legal and political systems in the nation where the analyst works, along with an understanding of social attitudes that can influence policy.
This type of work usually requires an advanced degree. Analysts tend to come from educational backgrounds in fields like political science, the law, and statistics. Most select an area of interest such as immigration policy, public health policy, or defense policy and pursue research in this area while they attend graduate school. They also gain training and experience by interning under practicing analysts in government agencies, nonprofits, and other settings.
One of the degrees you can get to become a policy analyst is a Master of Public Administration. You can also get a Master of Public Policy (which is nearly the same curriculum, in many cases, to a Public Administration degree), or a Master of Public Health (if you're interesting in healthcare policy, of course). U.S. News and World Report publishes a list of top "Public Affairs" schools, and includes specializations, one of which is "Public Policy Analysis". You can use US News and World Report to find a good program to attend if you want to do an MPA, MPP, or MPH.
It mentions that policy analysts come from different educational backgrounds, as there are varying areas where this job is needed. After someone has completed a general degree, in say, political science, is there a graduate program one would pursue to become a policy analyst? Or is it more of a job that just requires experience and in depth knowledge of one field?
How are policy analysts employed? Are they usually contractual workers hired for a specific project or do government agencies and non-profit organizations keep them on as salaried workers?
Policy analysts take different approaches to deciding whom their policies benefit. One way is to look at the individuals the policy will be aimed at and find viable solutions for that group with the resources they have available.
Another method is to look at the stakeholders involved and consider all of the politics involved with dealing with a larger, overseeing group. Taking into consideration their needs, solutions can be found.
The last method deals with large-scale policy changes which take into consideration all of the systems affected and the multitude of influences surrounding a problem.
In all of these cases, policy analysts must deal with both solid statistical data as well as with the people involved. This can indeed be a big task.
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