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Annual Report of the Treasury for the Year Ended 30 June 2012

Quality Standards for Policy Advice

Quality Policy Advice is Fit for Purpose

This Quality Standard for Policy Advice sets out the characteristics or dimensions of policy advice that will best enable it to promote well-informed high-quality decision-making by Ministers.  However, the quality dimensions below are not a checklist and not all dimensions will be equally important in every case - judgements are required at the outset about how to apply and balance the quality dimensions to ensure a particular piece of advice is fit for purpose in achieving the result sought.  When undertaking a piece of work, explicit consideration needs to be given to the following:

  • What point are Ministers at in their decision-making process? Can the Treasury add value? What are our opportunities to have an impact?
  • What result are we seeking by providing a piece of advice?
  • How should the quality dimensions below be applied and balanced to achieve this result?
  • What is the relative priority of this piece of work?
  • What level of investment is warranted?

Dimensions of Quality Policy Advice

Analytically rigorous (Analysis) Set in a wider strategic context (Applied analysis) Customer focused and persuasive (Advice)

Relevant frameworks

Appropriate analytical frameworks are used, and:

  • knowledge is up-to-date and informed by recent thinking and literature in the field
  • assumptions behind the frameworks used are explicit and consideration has been given to how they will be expected to play out in the real world (a world which includes information and transaction costs, market failure, government failure, etc), and
  • consideration has been given to less traditional frameworks and whether they would add innovative or useful perspectives. 

Strategic

  • Advice is set in the context of the Treasury's results and informed by a strategic view about what is important. 
  • We are explicit about the relative importance and materiality of the issue, in fiscal, economic and strategic terms. 
  • Connections across policy issues are made, ensuring that Ministers receive a whole-of-government perspective. 
  • Advice considers the long-term implications of decisions and provides a perspective that goes beyond immediate impacts. 
  • We frame issues and help set the agenda.

Clear

Advice is compellingly presented. It is:

  • brief and concise - key messages should be readily apparent to the reader
  • easy to read - has a clear and logical structure, avoids technical jargon and uses visual devices such as charts and tables where possible
  • pitched to suit the target audience - uses appropriate language, style and level of detail, and
  • framed in terms of how it fits with previous advice and communications with the Minister.

Robust reasoning and logic

Advice has a clear purpose, problem definition, evaluation of options against criteria and assessment of risks and opportunities. We come to a conclusion and give action-oriented recommendations.

Practical

Issues of implementation, technical feasibility, practicality and timing are considered and advice accurately identifies compliance, transitional, legislative, revenue and administrative implications and costs. 

Timely

Reports should meet Ministers' need for advice that helps in the decision-making process (even if it means, at times, that advice is not fully developed) and indicate when a decision is required. 


Evidence based

Analysis is supported by relevant evidence:

  • Empirical methods are sound, data gaps are identified and the level of confidence/certainty in our empirical base is explicit. 
  • We draw on New Zealand experience of current and past policy interventions and, where relevant, the experience of other countries. 
  • We give our best judgement despite data imperfections; we acknowledge information limitations and advise within them. 

Public sector consultation

Ministers receive advice that enables them to engage with their colleagues on a fully informed basis because:

  • thorough and timely consultation with other government departments has occurred and points of difference, and the reasons for these, are set out, and
  • where possible, advice is developed in conjunction with relevant government agencies.

Politically aware

Advice:

  • demonstrates awareness of the wider environment and political situation
  • is based on a clear understanding of the desired outcomes of the Minister/Government
  • relates to the perspectives of Ministers, even if suggesting something that tests those perspectives, and
  • recognises choices and constraints Ministers face, and includes a range of options to address these. 

Free and frank

Our advice is honest, impartial and politically neutral - we have a duty to alert Ministers to the possible consequences of following particular policies, whether or not such advice accords with Ministers' views.  Good free and frank advice is offered with an understanding of its political context and the constraints within which the Minister is operating. 

Perspectives of wider stakeholders

We understand and advise Ministers on the perspective of groups outside the public sector, consult with key stakeholders and provide advice on communications where appropriate. 

Solution focused

We are proactive, anticipating, as well as responding to, Ministers' needs. Advice suggests a clear way forward ("Here is what you can do" as well as "Here is a problem") and includes a range of practical options (first best advice, but also second and third). 

Quality Involves Continuous Improvement

At the end:

  • Did we achieve the result we were seeking?
  • Were our judgements about what would be fit for purpose correct?
  • What would we do differently next time?
  • How can we capture and share this learning?
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