Understanding Policy Making

This website is under construction. Policy-making files are currently on the Understanding the Civil Service Website.

The web page offers advice, analysis and sympathy for policy advisers, whether in large businesses or in government.

Why sympathy? Policy making is difficult and frustrating, whether in government or in business. It can feel like a game of snakes and ladders in which occasional rapid process up the policy ladder is all too often followed by rapid descent down the snake of an unforeseen problem.

Policy advisers and their decision-making bosses have different incentives and objectives. Advisers want to design policies that work, that are properly planned and that are well resourced. Most decision makers - whether senior executives or politicians - want rapid results at minimum cost, and are strongly incentivised to impress their senior colleagues or impress voters at the next election.

Decision makers also seldom have the time or inclination to understand the detail. Much of their decision making may be based on intuition and gut feeling, or even half-remembered and possibly long discredited theories. Experts are indispensable but annoying. It is seldom easy for policy staff to 'speak truth to power'.

This web site explores these issues in some detail and offers advice to policy makers and those who who would wish to influence policy decisions. It has three main sections.

A fourth section offers more detailed advice, including for those who want to influence government policy from outside and for those who want to understand EU policy making.

You can access most of the documents on this website via the menus in the grey boxes below. There is also a comprehensive online library and this online search facility:

Those interested in other aspects of government might like to investigate sister websites which will help you Understand the Civil Service and Understand Regulation.

Policy making is seldom a smooth process. It is more akin to a game of snakes and ladders in which occasional rapid process up the policy ladder is all too often followed by rapid descent down the snake of an unintended consequence.

Luckily, there is lots of good advice around. The links immediately below will help you turn that great idea into reality. And the Leadership/Management section, further down this page, contains lots of good stuff about program and project management.

The Policy Process


  • Communications Strategies
  • Effective Communication
  • Presentation
  • Working with the Media
  • Notes of meetings


Program & Project Management
inc. Managing Change

This section summarises excellent advice from successful managers, together with the key lessons imparted by the best leadership and management trainers.


The Theory

  • Introduction & Overview
  • Officials' and Ministers' Duties
  • Why is it Hard to Speak the Truth?
  • Why do some Ministers Dislike Challenge?

The Practice

  • How to Offer Persuasive Advice
  • Failure to Speak Truth to Power - Examples
  • Project Management - Appraisal Optimism



  • Have Civil Servants become more like Courtiers?
  • Must Officials Always Obey Orders?
  • Should Civil Servants be More Accountable?



Personal Effectiveness

  • Managing Personal Relationships
  • Managing Meetings
  • Managing Negotiations
  • Managing Our Own Time
  • Whose Problem Is It Anyway?


Policy Making
Useful Reports




Project Management
Useful Checklists


  • Introduction to the EU
  • EU Institutions
  • EU Legislation
  • Key Dates
  • Lobbying & Using Informal Contacts
  • Now to Succeed in Formal Negotiations
  • Implications for UK Policies - Competence, Transposition etc.
  • Brexit Documents


How to Influence Policy

  • Advice for Academics etc.
  • Lobbyists - Advice for Civil Servants



  • Navigating Whitehall
  • Permanent Secretaries' Objectives


Further information About this website, and Contact information, is here.

There is an extensive on-line reference library here.

My blog is here and a link to my Twitter feed is in the footer below.

Spotted something wrong?
Please do drop me an email if you spot anything that is out-of-date, or any other errors, typos or faulty links.