Quality of policy advice

Policy advice

When you produce advice for Ministers, a Council or Committee, senior management or governance body, you want to be confident that you deliver what they need. This applies across the board from high-quality decision-making to information gathering.

It starts with a review to understand the situation

NZIER has a seasoned and practical team that carries out the reviews. As an organisation, we have been doing this for many years, processing thousands of papers. Our team are all people who have been advisors and leaders of advice functions. We understand the pressures and the challenges of the job. This experience has built a culture that means our team can assess the papers carefully and in a way that reflects the situation.

The results are a detailed assessment with a write-up on each paper plus an overview of the strengths and weaknesses shown by the full sample.

And flows naturally into improvement

This feeds into possible improvement programmes. Our philosophy is that every paper – and thus every advisory function – is capable of improvement.

We regularly review the advice of 15-20 central government agencies and a selection of local authorities. Our reviews act as the catalyst for ongoing quality improvements that have been positively received by Ministers, Councils, Boards and senior decision-makers.

Alternative approaches are available

Central Government agencies these days are being processed using the methods prescribed by DPMC's Policy Project tools. Over the last few years, our experience with this approach has given us a broad base to draw examples and experience.

The basis of these assessments is to focus on four critical aspects of advice:

  • Context
  • Analysis
  • Advice 
  • Action.

We also still offer our own previously used NZIER appraisal system. This methodology has been honed through its use over many years and in many different settings and situations.

This assesses papers on three key criteria that are the hallmarks of high-quality advice:

  • Customer focus
  • Credible analysis
  • Clarity and conciseness.

Credible and authoritative

Both of these methods mean we can score your advice and report the results to any oversight bodies required. For instance, we can report our results directly to the Auditor General for those agencies who request them.

Each year we look back over the results at an individual paper level and prepare our annual report, including relative results and our reading of the year’s developments and trends. Further, we benchmark your advice activity against the other organisations we assess. This is presented to clients at a gathering.

Beyond assessment

Our reviews are designed to look past the quality of today’s sample of papers. Our team identify strengths and work-on areas. They will suggest promising avenues to be pursued to improve quality. We watch these evolve and discuss how they are tracking. For regular clients, we follow progress over time.

We can go further with an extra service of ongoing tailored coaching to help you improve the quality of your papers. Over the years, we have given many workshops and training sessions on topics from Risk Analysis to Writing Better Conclusions. In recent years, we have been putting our collective experience onto paper in a series of Masterclasses. These deal succinctly with critical areas of policy advice in both central and local government. They are distributed to our clients and subsequently put on the NZIER website.


The focus of our team is on improvement. Our standardised, practical feedback allows individual analysts and managers to work out what makes a high-quality paper and why some papers are not as good. As the features that improve a paper become more widely understood, you can move from quality advice being ‘the craft of a few’ to ‘the working style of all’.

Benefits and support

Benefits of using NZIER

  • An independent assessment of the quality of your advice to help you tailor your quality improvement programmes.
  • A tailored report centred on your specific users’ needs and preferences.
  • Support for policy leaders and managers to help them improve the quality advice.
  • Workshops to help your team focus on key issues.
  • A measure that you can use for annual reporting purposes.
  • Access to NZIER benchmarking club events where you can learn from your peers and hear about the improvement processes that have worked well in other agencies.
  • Confidence that you are getting first-rate quality guidance based on a robust evaluation approach backed up with highly experienced and insightful reviewers.

Ongoing support

Our annual reviews are just one of the ways that NZIER can help you write better papers. We also offer a range of additional services that can help you keep quality improvements top of the agenda throughout the year.

  • Discussions with Ministers, their offices or Senior Executives to check what they are looking for in your papers, and whether they feel they are getting what they need.
  • Assistance with the preparation, or independent peer review, of particularly important papers to ensure that you deliver when it matters most.
  • Workshops to help team members get a shared understanding of the importance of writing high quality papers and to learn tips and tricks to improve their own work.
  • Individual coaching and mentoring for staff and managers who are seeking to lift the quality of their outputs.
  • Reviews of the whole policy process and group capability from end to end – how the work is allocated, monitored, delivered and quality assured, and how feedback is provided. We use DPMC's Policy Project toolkit for this.
  • Leading and participating in internal quality assurance panels, including those using the Policy Project methodology.
  • Deep Dives – a post-project review of all aspects of a major piece of policy work including project management, research, engagement and policy development. These are designed to identify good practice and areas for improvement, so they can be applied to future pieces of work.