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HOW TO BRIEF A MINISTER

What is a briefing?
Briefing is the process of selecting and presenting information to enable
someone else to understand a particular subject quickly and without
having to research it themselves.
Ministers are busy and deal with a broad range of issues and subjects. To
deal effectively with the matters that arise in their portfolio, they rely on
others to sift and present information and advice in a form that helps
them to:
1. grasp the important points
2. make a decision based on the facts

Who are we briefing?


The first task for briefers is to step into the shoes of the person they are
briefing and ask themselves two questions.
If I was the Minister:
3. What would I know already?
What would I want to know?

Policy analysts are experts in their policy domain, possessing considerable


detailed knowledge. Ministers, on the other hand, focus on the bigger
picture. They want to know:
4. Why are we doing this?
5. What problem is being solved?
What is the alignment with the governments priorities?

Briefings need to start from these big-picture, contextualising questions if


they are to equip the minister to grasp the strategy behind the policy,
rather than just detail and facts. Often, it is essential to describe a
particular detail to equip the minister to understand the point at issue.
Sometimes a briefing needs to zoom in from the big picture to focus on
the minutest point of detail. But the whole brief cannot be focused on that
level of detail or it will be much too long.

Whats the brief for?


The purpose of the brief will determine both the angle from which you will
approach the subject and the whole structure of the brief. Every sentence
in the brief should be included only because it contributes directly to the
briefs purpose.
There are many types of ministerial briefs, but they can be broken down
into three main categories:
6. the information-giving brief: providing an update on a subject
7. the decision brief: making a recommendation/s and seeking a
decision
the meeting brief: preparing the minister for a meeting
Preparing the brief
Any brief should have three qualities. It should be:
8. accurate: the information given must be reliable, and the briefer
should take care to distinguish fact from opinion
9. concise: Ministers have constraints on their time
10. clear: Information should be easily
absorbed.
Briefing is hard work, partly because it entails making sure that every fact
is correct and that the presentation of the overall case is compelling. A
brief is not simply a summary of facts, it needs to be based on analysis of
the relevant information.
Briefs are called briefs because they should be brief. A systematic
approach to preparing the brief is essential if it is to be concise. There are
three aspects the brief writer needs to consider:
11. Clarity of thought: thinking the issue
through thoroughly. Whats it really about? What are the impacts,
risks, options?
12. Choice: what to include and in what
order. Whats important? What can safely be left out?
13. Clarity of expression: presenting the
material as clearly as possible and using language and structure
to help the reader to grasp it quickly.

Choosing what to include - and what to leave out


The choice can be helped by categorising information into:
14. Musts: the brief must include these
items, without which the minister cannot understand what its
about. (These are the essential details you would tell the
minister if you had only two minutes to brief them in person).
15. Coulds: these are things that are nice to
know, but can be left out and, in a brief for a minister, they
should always be left out.

Structure, language and presentation


Structure is vital. Every brief, oral or written, should have a beginning,
middle and an end.
16. The beginning should include an
explanatory title, and should explain briefly what its about and
define its purpose.
17. The middle may provide any background
required and contain the main body of the brief.
18. The end should present a clear course of
action.
Language can help or hinder. You should avoid technical language, jargon,
acronyms, abbreviations, and bureaucratese. You should also avoid long or
complex sentence structures and dense paragraphs of text. Because
brevity is essential, you need to make every word count. Often one
carefully chosen word can do the job of a phrase, or a phrase replaces a
sentence.