What is a Policy Analyst?

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Often called researchers and scholars, policy analysts work to raise public awareness on social issues, such as crime prevention, access to healthcare and environmental protection. Whether they are advising a local politician or helping a nonprofit improve their services, policy analysts have the opportunity to change the world, however small or large the contribution may be.

The Role of a Policy Analyst

Policy analysts work on either broad or specialized issues, depending on their agency and position. They research complex problems and recommend solutions to government officials and the public.

A typical workday for this position is highly varied and can include office work, field work and frequent travel. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the role can be broken down into four major activities:

  • Collecting and Compiling Information: Policy analysts gather information, especially statistical data, to help explore issues and explain the solutions they propose. Often, this data can identify hidden problems and highlight the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of proposed policies. Analysts gather data by conducting surveys, cost-benefit analyses and focus groups.
  • Analyzing Effects and Recommending Policies: They identify current or impending problems, and then create and evaluate solutions. Once a problem is recognized, they attempt to determine the cause or causes. They might propose changes to existing regulations as a result of what their research found.
  • Evaluating Outcomes: Policy isn’t automatically considered successful simply because it achieved its intended goal. Analysts identify any unintended consequences or costs, meaning it cost more than expected, or if its benefits outweighed expenses. The goal of evaluations is to improve, expand or even scrap a policy.
  • Sharing Information: Most policy analysts write papers, briefs and fact sheets, but some also write books, speeches for politicians and editorials in newspapers and magazines. They create electronic newsletters or blog posts, give oral presentations and appear on television. In all cases, analysts disperse what they’ve uncovered about an issue by providing facts, answers to common questions, graphs and information on relevant publications and sources.

Career Track and Salary

Policy analysts are employed in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. They can be employed by think tanks, such as the Earth Institute, special interest groups or research organizations. Highly trained and tenured individuals are often hired as consultants by federal agencies and corporations to support positions on healthcare, education, the environment and other contentious issues. Even some larger news organizations hire people with backgrounds in policy analysis to help do investigations and research.

This role is critical to helping policy makers, organizations and government officials understand the impacts of their decisions. Valerie Martinelli, a former director at the Center for Economic Policy and Development, Inc., said, “Policy analysts produce influential social and political change within their decision-making procedures and can be employed by think tanks, such as The Brookings Institution, special interest groups, consulting firms or research organizations.”

Many policy analysts continue their careers in another area of politics. Most occupations in politics require at least a bachelor’s degree for an entry-level position. Many students interested in these careers earn degrees in political science, government or communication. The one exception to the educational requirement is legislators. Because legislators are elected and not hired, their job entry requirements differ for each position in each part of the country. In all cases, though, legislators are expected to have extensive experience improving the community in some manner.

Salary levels vary widely depending on the employer, as well as the candidate’s level of education and previous experience. According to Payscale, salaries for entry-level positions in this career range from $39,390 – $73,370 a year. More tenured policy analysts earn an annual salary somewhere between $40,037 – $80,660.

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Educational requirements for this position depend on the employer, the subject being studied and the candidate’s work experience. A bachelor’s degree is considered a minimum requirement as most policy analysts have a graduate degree, such as a law (JD), doctorate (PhD) or master’s degree. Common fields of study include economics, public policy and political science, but many have degrees in education, business administration, public administration, philosophy or psychology. Having a degree related to a specific area of expertise can give candidates an advantage in the field, such as when a healthcare analyst has a medical degree.

Some people begin working as policy analysts immediately after graduate school, but most employers require extensive work experience, even for entry-level positions. Candidates can start getting experience while still in school by working as professors, volunteering for nonprofits or starting in lower level jobs related to policy. In some government agencies, for example, entry-level program analysts assist with policy work. Social scientists who do statistical or other kinds of analysis can also sometimes move into the policy arena.

In addition to educational and work experience requirements, candidates need strong networking skills in this track. Analysts must be able to perform independent research that requires reading and digesting complex information. Being able to work alone on a project is just as important to this position as being able to work well in a group. Due to the nature of the position, candidates need good communication skills, both in writing and speaking.

Starting Your Public Administration Career

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