A Policy Analyst is someone who helps craft public policy and laws at several levels of government. They value working together to find the best policy possible to solve a public problem.
Professionals in this position can come from several different backgrounds, including education, law, sociology, and city planning. Their position may be formalized within a government department, or they may be part of an independent corporate “Think Tank.” They may also be part of a temporary group formed to solve a problem.
This position is responsible for the final written policies that can become laws or legal procedures. They do this through analyzing collected data from the public, as well as using previous knowledge to help solve problems.
- Participating in the legislative process.
- Providing input into public policies that can impact millions of people.\
- Being able to put their individual passions into practice.
- Being seen as a leader in the area of focus.
Regardless of whether in the private or public sector, policy analysts work in much the same way. Much of their work is in an office setting, but may require extra hours when close to deadlines. If they are working in a public capacity, they will need to be able to communicate across party lines to help find politicians willing to work together so the policy change can happen.
Much of their day to day will involve:
- Analyzing collected data in the form of surveys or interviews with citizenry.
- Review how previous legislation has impacted particular members of a population and the negative or positive impacts the legislation may have had.
- Meet with other analysts, legislators, or stakeholders to identify problems and workable solutions.
- Collaborate on written reports based on the information gathered, so they can communicate the best course of action to solve a problem.
- Analytical skills to identify trends
- Strong oral and written communication skills
- Problem Solving and Critical Thinking
- Able to collaborate and work with different opinions.
- Strong research and planning skills.
- Dependent on the level and area, strong database and data analysis skills, including various computer software dedicated to these.
- Word processing, email, and technical communication.
- Knowledge of research databases such as LEXISnexis.
- Federal Government (Or State/Local)
- Professional/Scientific Organizations
- Educational Organizations
- Religious or non-profit organization.
While policy analysts can be hired directly from their undergrad programs, most hold a master’s degree in a specific field. It is rare to be hired directly into the policy analyst level. You will need to build experience and a strong network through governmental entry level positions.
This field has long, irregular hours, and can involve travel. It can take up a lot of personal time to reach a high level and be able to make positive change. Personal relationships will need to take a back seat while you move up in the industry.
As the political world grows further increasingly polarized, it has become harder for Policy Analysts to find opposing politicians willing to work together to make positive change. There has also been an incredible increase in data available about public policies – both in citizens affecting events and events affecting citizens. This data is both individual, as well as available video of events and independent state opinions.
Participate in student government.
Create their own games.
Participate in Debate/Forensics
- Bachelor’s – Political Science, Public Policy, or similar. Statistics is also a valuable field.
- Internships in the public sector are very helpful.
- Master’s – Public Administration
- Different majors can lead to this career, but this will typically be as consultant.
- Ph.D – Public Administration
- Typically earned after already employed as an analyst.
Most individuals who find work as policy analysts do so after completing a Master’s in Public Administration.
- Participate in Student Government
- Volunteer in local government, such as with Parks and Rec programs.
- Volunteer with government official campaigns.
- Organizations such as Model UN.
Similar to other positions in the public sector, policy analysts find their career through strong networking and taking advantage of available opportunities. During your school career, take advantage of government internships or similar opportunities and stay in touch with the individuals you meet during these positions. If you were able to impress them with your work, they can help refer you to entry level positions.
While you may be able to find an entry level analyst position, you will typically need to work for a few years gaining experience and further building your network. During this time, some people take the time to work on their Master’s. Even without an MPA, you may be able to move into the analyst position. It is a combination of hard work, luck, and strong connections that can help you get this role.
- C-Span - Policy Organizations in need of Analysts
- Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management
- Researcher (In a University)
- Senior Political Aide
- Administrative Services Manager
- Management Director
- Executive Leader
- Regional/City Planner
Becoming a policy analyst is a long road. At the end, however, you will have the opportunity to create real change for your community or the country at large. If you are a person who enjoys solving problems with data and working with a variety people, it may be a good career choice.