Are you thinking about career opportunities that will enable you to contribute to the greater good of your community and country? Consider becoming a policy analyst. A policy analyst is a type of political scientist. The ultimate goal of a policy analyst is to influence public policy on a federal, state or local level. Policy analysts come from a myriad of backgrounds. However, if you're wondering how to become a policy analyst, you should plan on earning your bachelor's degree and attending graduate school for a master's degree.
Job Overview for a Policy Analyst
Broadly speaking, political scientists study political systems along with their development and operations. Policy analysts, in particular, study the impact that current and proposed laws may have on individuals and social groups. They also study political trends, ideas and governmental policies. Policy analysts develop written reports that explain their research and findings with the intention of influencing legislation or political trends. Quite often, when you see a new bill proposed in Congress, a policy analyst has first researched its potential impact and recommended introducing the legislation.
It is not uncommon for policy analysts to specialize in a particular area. Possible specializations include economic, environmental, healthcare or law enforcement policies. The work of a policy analyst can have significant implications for society and its governance. For instance, a policy analyst may influence programs designed to prevent crime in high-risk areas, to fund education or to develop climate change legislation.
Specific Job Responsibilities
Since policy analysts may work for a range of organizations and specialize in a number of areas, there is no standard set of job responsibilities. However, a policy analyst may be responsible for any of the following tasks:
- Information gathering: The first step in any project is to identify an issue and compile information about it. Statistical data are particularly important for policy analysts. They may be responsible for generating statistical data (via surveys and other methods) or compiling existing data.
- Effects analysis: Using the compiled data, policy analysts identify existing or potential problems and examine how policy proposals may solve the problems. For example, in 2005, there were riots in Paris. Following the riots, a think tank developed a report identifying the social causes of the unrest and recommending solutions.
- Outcome evaluation: Before recommending a new policy or a policy change, an analyst strives to determine the likely outcome of the change. Often, analysts examine similar policies already implemented elsewhere, along with their effects, to try to predict the outcomes of proposed policies. The evaluation of an outcome may also include a look at whether the benefits of the new policy would outweigh the costs.
- Information distribution: Policy analysts develop written reports that explain their findings and recommend solutions. They distribute this information to a broad range of stakeholders, including government agencies, individual politicians, the media, the public and academia. Some analysts may also publicize their findings by writing editorials or magazine articles.
- Value judgments: Value judgments are at the heart of all laws. Some policy analysts philosophize about the ethical questions that underlie public policies.
Skills and Characteristics of Effective Policy Analysts
As you can see, policy analysts spend a great deal of time researching and writing. Therefore, it is crucial for an aspiring analyst to be a highly competent researcher and writer. In addition, these professionals must have excellent critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills. Much of their work involves deep thinking and informed prediction. Other skills and characteristics that are helpful for this line of work include the following:
- Articulate speaker
- Strong organizational skills
- Collaborative mindset
- Sound ethical judgment
- Creative problem-solver
Places of Employment
Policy analysts are often thought to work for government agencies. And indeed, federal, state and local government agencies are among the employers of policy analysts. However, many policy analysts work for independent organizations such as think tanks. A think tank is an institute comprised of experts who study various issues and propose solutions. Policy analysts may also work for special interest groups or nonprofit organizations.
If you are thinking about working toward a career in public policy analysis, it is natural to be curious about the job outlook for this profession. In its career-related statistical data, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics does not differentiate between policy analysts and other political scientists. However, the Bureau does note that the job outlook for political scientists as a group is favorable for the foreseeable future.*
Policy analysts come from many backgrounds. In general, a minimum of a master’s degree is expected of individuals entering this career field. Some employers may require job applicants to hold a doctoral degree. Policy analysts may major in a range of subject areas, including political science and philosophy. Some of them hold pre-law degrees or have graduated from law school. In addition, many analysts find that having a Master of Public Administration degree is helpful in their work.
You can pursue a rewarding career in political science when you acquire a solid academic foundation for success at Grand Canyon University. Apply to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Government with an Emphasis in State and Local Public Policy, followed by a Master of Public Administration with an Emphasis in Government and Policy. Click on Request Info above to begin your academic journey at GCU.
*Retrieved from: Occupational Outlook Handbook, Political Scientists in December 2020
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.