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3. Clarifying the problem


The first step when preparing a policy brief is to clarify the problem that it will address. Often such problems are unclear when they are first brought to attention. Clarification is therefore essential but if it is done too rapidly, or in a cursory way, it may lead to: focusing on a problem that is not important or not perceived to be important by key stakeholders; considering inappropriate solutions; and failing to consider appropriate solutions. A failure to reconsider a problem iteratively as additional information is found can have the same consequences. Holding discussions about the problem section with policymakers, stakeholders, and key informants prior to preparing the rest of a policy brief can help to ensure that these undesirable consequences are avoided.

For a policy brief to be useful it must address a problem that warrants attention. Clarifying how the problem came to attention, how it has been framed, the size of the problem, and the cause of the problem, can help to ensure that the problem warrants attention and that appropriate options for addressing the problem are considered.1 The following questions will help to clarify the problem that a policy brief addresses:

Based on the questions above, a policy brief could therefore contain four corresponding section headings:

Although the questions are presented sequentially, clarifying the problem is often an iterative process. The best way to present a problem may vary: sometimes it may be helpful to include, after the background section, a section in the policy brief that addresses how the problem has been framed (described), or it may be better to place this at the end of the description of the problem.

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This page was last updated November 2011.