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MEMORANDUM

DATE: 24 September, 2012


TO:
DPI821M Policy Writers
FROM:Luciana Herman, Chief Decision Maker
RE:
Assignment 2, Short Memo
Decision makers rely on short memos for key findings and/or recommendations on
complex policy problems. The memo often precedes and serves as the foundation
for an oral briefing. Some memos make recommendations based on research, laying
out the findings or analyzing the scope of the problem. Others lay out options for
action. Still others argue persuasively for a single course of action. Memos can take
different formats but they should always convey information succinctly and
cogently. Words are precious here. Make every one of them count!
You are responsible for signaling up front that you understand what the issue or
problem is and what your decision maker or client needs from you. Do not repeat
back everything you know about the issue. Nor should you go into great detail
about how you arrived at your thinking. Instead, show that you are the authority by
presenting intelligent priorities, examining the tradeoffs, and offer reasonable and
convincing conclusions. As the policy analyst, you must take charge over complex
information in the face of challenging deadlines, reducing it to its essentials,
communicated persuasively.
The goal of this assignment is to learn and practice an effective structure for a short
policy memo and gain dexterity over the variations in managing complex data for
different kinds of decision makers.
Guiding question: What should your decision maker do to prepare his/her
organization/community/state for a future pandemic? What lessons can be gleaned
from the case study? What steps are necessary for action? What obstacles remain?
Why is it urgent to act?
The immediate task is to situate yourself in the role of a policy analyst who reports
to your choice of one of the following decision makers:

Director, U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Decision


makers who are somewhat removed from the data you are analyzing may
require more context and background. Their greater expertise, however,
invites a more sophisticated approach. These high-level analysts respond well
to the language and tools of their disciplines, statistical regressions, and data
sets. Nevertheless, you should assume that your decision maker is busy and
unable to spend a lot of time parsing your analysis. Keep your language clear
and forthright, with the main points concisely and cogently in focus.
The Governor of Tennessee. When you advise an elected official, you
should assume that s/he lacks your technical expertise. Such a decision
maker may require more context or background on the issue. Nor are such
decision makers likely to be familiar with the language and methodology of
policy analysis. Translate your policy analysis into simple words that rely on
the values and language that makes sense to your decision maker.
Tennessee Commissioner of Public Health. Even for high-level decision
makers, you should be careful to present your data through a lens that they
will understand and respond to. Think about their priorities and offer them
background relevant to those priorities.

Superintendent of Knox County Schools. Decision makers who may be


vetted in the language of policy analysis may not necessarily understand the
language of health policy. Frame your analysis accordingly.
Chief Medical Officer, Le Bonheur Childrens Medical Center. Here, you
will need access to the language of health policy. Use the words,
methodology, and perspective that the CMO trusts as authoritative.

Organizing the Memo


A good policy memo is neither a list of competing perspectives nor a
litigators brief that argues for only one side of an issue without acknowledging its
limitations or liabilities.
Qualify your argument or recommendations when
necessary, but at all times focus the reader's attention on your findings,
recommendations, and goals. Stick to essential information or arguments that grow
out of your introduction and that lead inevitably to your conclusions.

Outline the memo. Visualize the structure and sections before you write.

BLUF. Get down to business quickly! You do not have the luxury to present
elaborate background information or eloquent speculations.

The opening paragraph should immediately convey the problem or issue. It


should tell your reader what your memo is about. WHO is the key stakeholder
or target audience? WHAT is the problem? WHY is it a problem? HOW do you
approach it? Sign post your conclusions, using the body of the memo to
support them. This is not a mystery novel with a surprise ending!

Organize all information logically. Do not present the material in the order you
arrived at your conclusions. Start with your conclusions and think backwards
to what the decision maker needs to know to understand the value and
relevance of those conclusions.

Focus on your audiences needs. What is useful to them? Compress,


subordinate, or eliminate the unnecessary.

Narrate the data the graphs, tables, regressions, or equations -- that


support your argument. Don't present these materials for their own sake,
but only when and in such a way that they advance your position. Add one or
two of them, as relevant, as annexes, and remember a memo is not
exhaustive. It is not a briefing book!

End conclusively by returning to So what? Remind the decision maker that


you have not only proven key points/recommendations, but that the matter is
important, even urgent. Use the conclusion to underscore the mission or
central goal of your findings or recommendations. Why are they important?

Word Count: 800


Please work individually.
Draft due date: Friday, Sept. 28th, to online drop box.
Final version due date: Submit to online drop box no more than week after you
receive your written comments on your draft and at least 24 hours before your
scheduled conference.
Conferences: Please sign up on the scheduling wiki for a draft conference between
Tues., October 2, and Fri., Oct. 5.