Associating Atlas Topics with Policy Profession Competencies

… a resource in the Competencies database

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Topics, with their associated concepts, that can help prepare for work in the policy profession

As noted in Policy Profession Competencies Table, we adopt the term used by the UK Civil Service, the “policy profession,” to describe the professional realm associated with public policy. We interpret policy profession to include those who do public policy work at any level of government, at non-profits and think tanks, and at corporations that interact with governments. We believe that the best current description of the competencies (knowledge and skills) needed in the policy profession is found in UK Policy Profession Standards 2019, Policy Profession Standards – a framework for professional development (reference below, pdf link above right), setting out “the skills and knowledge required by policy professionals at all stages of their career, and provide a framework for professional development.” We propose that, with minor adjustments, these standards are applicable to the broadly defined policy profession in most OECD countries. In Canada we suggest that they are applicable for the policy profession focussed on any or all of the federal government, provincial government, and regional and municipal governments.

Exhibit 1 below, which we label the Topics by Competency Area Table, arrays on the Policy Profession Competencies Table, the Atlas topics, selected from the Topics database, that are most closely aligned with specific competencies. Exhibit 2 displays the remaining topics from the top table in the Topics database. For an analogous array at the level of concepts rather than topics, see the Concepts by Competency Area Table in Exhibit 2 of Preparing for the Policy Profession with Concepts in Beyond Policy Analysis.


Exhibit 1: Topics by Competency Area Table

Atlas topics associated with specific policy profession competencies

Analysis and use of evidence

Knowledge of Policy Making

A knowledgeable and skilled policy professional understands the context and background of their policy area and that building a strong knowledge base is crucial in all areas of policy; has awareness of the history of the policy area and builds on lessons learned from the past; has a clear understanding and working knowledge of what it means to be a civil servant and how to support Ministers and Government.


◾Demonstrates ability to systematically and quickly build a knowledge base in a new role/policy area including why previous approaches succeeded or failed (lessons learned); adapts to new challenges and quickly collates information to support effective decision making or advice.

The Study of Policy Analysis and Process

Problem Definition and Agenda Setting

Policy Instruments and Design

◾Makes sound decisions and recommendations, to Ministers and senior officials, that demonstrate a thorough understanding of the policy problem; uses credible evidence and research to support these; draws upon suitable comparators (e.g. international).

Models of Decision Making

Ends, Means, and Cost-Benefit Analysis

Responsibility and Accountability

◾Works collaboratively with other disciplines to develop sound policy, calling upon relevant expertise/other professions when relevant (e.g. legal, finance, science, economics).

The Study of Ethics in Public Policy and Management

Moral Philosophy and Political Philosophy

◾Demonstrates sound knowledge of relevant legislation. Identifies risks (reputational, political, presentational and financial) and responds as appropriately to mitigate them.

The Study of Governance and Institutions

Statistics and Data Analysis

A knowledgeable and skilled policy professional commissions, understands and uses information from analysts, statisticians and social researchers to support policy design. Understands both the benefits and risks of using data; makes effective use of experts to develop a sound evidence base to support policy recommendations.


◾Uses evidence provided by data analysis and spots pitfalls including caveats and limitations (e.g. statistical uncertainty); correctly interprets widely-used statistical tools (such as correlation and confidence intervals).

The Study of Quantitative Methods

Bivariate Data

Probability Theory

◾Demonstrates use of analytical approaches and key statistical concepts when considering a policy problem, including straightforward data manipulation and clear presentation of data; uses data that is most helpful in the particular policy domain (e.g. market size in commercial; demographic or epidemiological data in health).

Describing Distributions

Normal Distributions and Advanced Graphs

Sampling Distributions

Estimation and Hypothesis Testing

◾Engages professional analysts at all stages in the policy development; works collaboratively with analysts to maximise the quality of the evidence base.

Research Design

◾Assesses the quality and relevance of analysis produced by others and acts accordingly. Assumes responsibility to check understanding of the process and outcomes of analysis.

Tests of Means and Power


Analysis of Variance

Transformation, Chi Square, Distribution Free Tests, and Effect Size

◾Demonstrates an understanding of the Code of Practice for Official Statistics and follows it.

◾Identifies who needs to know and shares knowledge of useful data sources.

Policy Framing

An knowledgeable and skilled policy professional looks beyond the initial policy question to understand and address the real issues behind it; considers a range of perspectives and tests key assumptions; focuses on the core desired objectives of a problem, while taking into consideration wider implications, impacts and risks of the potential interventions.


◾Takes time to understand the core challenges of the problem using a wide range of evidence; identifies the fundamental questions in order to deliver the desired outcome; agrees the scope; defines the problem in clear and simple terms (e.g. using a mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive (MECE) set of questions); keeps a focus on the key issues.

Institutions and the Policy Process

◾Considers views, perspectives and insight from across an appropriate range of stakeholders, and challenges assumptions, when preparing advice or developing options for successful outcomes.

Interests and the Policy Process

Strategic Management in the Public Sector

◾Provides quick, accurate and well thought through responses to requests for policy advice.

Policy Communication

◾Tests policy options against desired outcomes, agreed success criteria and risks.

Evidence and Decision Making

◾Recognises that issues do not exist in isolation; takes into account drivers and impacts; anticipates the “cause and effect” outcome a policy is likely to have.

Ideas and the Policy Process

◾Stays focused on the most important aspects of the problem.

◾Generates insights leading to applied solutions and positive impact.

◾Identifies who else needs to know and shares their knowledge and insights.

Policy Communities and Networks


A knowledgeable and skilled policy professional recognises that economic considerations are a core aspect of any policy problem. Understands the basics and knows when to bring in the experts; works with economic advisers as an intelligent customer and commissioner of their expertise; can perform simple analysis and use the evidence supplied to develop high quality policy advice.


◾Considers how economic data and analysis can help when starting to consider a policy problem; knows what economic data exist and identifies the right questions to ask.

◾Applies the results of economic analysis to inform policy thinking and decision making; shows understanding of the limitations of analysis and economic thinking, reflects this in recommendations and conclusions; challenges key assumptions when using economic analysis produced by others.

Supply, Demand, and Equilibrium

Consumer Theory and Elasticity of Demand and Supply

Commodity Taxes and Subsidies

The Price System and Price Regulation

Trade, Adjustment, and Protectionism


Labour Markets, Transfers, and Personal Taxes

Public Goods and Commons Problems

◾Carries out straightforward data manipulation or simple economic analysis and presents it clearly.

Working with Spreadsheets

◾Demonstrates working in partnership with professional economists from the outset of the work.

◾Shares knowledge and skills with others and uses networks built with economists.

◾Updates narratives in accordance with new economic theory as it develops.

Science and Technology

A knowledgeable and skilled policy professional understands the relevance of science and technology to their policy area to support development of well-informed, evidence-based policy recommendations. Engages and works in partnership with the relevant science, engineering and technology experts; can appropriately apply a range of evidence and techniques to address policy problems.


◾Applies appropriately a wide range of evidence and techniques to address policy problems; seeks input and guidance from specialists for more sophisticated analysis.

◾Works in partnership with the most appropriate technology, scientific and/or engineering experts to provide well-informed, evidence-based policy recommendations; uses advice.

◾Demonstrates an appreciation of the limitations that individuals or networks may have.

◾Understands the perspectives of their Chief Scientific Adviser, including the trade-offs that need to be considered, and other key experts in their policy area.

Futures, Foresight and Horizon Scanning

A knowledgeable and skilled policy professional considers the long-term impact and potential outcomes of policy recommendations. Understands the future prospects, opportunities and challenges in the policy area; communicates these effectively; is aware that there are a range of tools to develop futures-thinking and foresight; commissions the building of such evidence; engages with experts in the field of futures-thinking and foresight.


◾Applies a range of futures tools to explore the various possible futures in policy making.

◾Communicates the value and purpose of futures-thinking and foresight work to colleagues and teams in the Department.

◾Uses the expertise of stakeholders to provide context, and underpin the development of insights into the future to inform policy making.

◾Shows awareness of the groups inside Government (e.g. Office for Budget Responsibility, Office for National Statistics) who generate information that can inform your view of the future; makes intelligent use of their work.

◾Draws on experts from multiple disciplines and professions to broaden perspectives and better inform policy making, and develop broader perspectives.

◾Generates evidence to enhance the ability of futures thinking and foresight on policy development, through use of e.g. surveys, interviews and digital metrics.

◾Scopes and commissions high-quality analysis focused on the future, such as scenarios from internal and external partners; draws on resources for supporting evidence-based policy making.

◾Uses futures-thinking and foresight to challenge own assumptions and biases, as well as those of others.

Politics and democracy

Advising, Briefing and Drafting

A knowledgeable and skilled policy professional presents accurate, brief, clear arguments and options; tailors communication according to its use and the intended audience; is confident in the briefing of Ministers and senior officials; contributes to the democratic process whereby Parliament holds Government to account.


◾Drafts documents that are logically structured, contain carefully assimilated and selected information and evidence, presents a full and balanced picture with a persuasive conclusion.

◾Writes in a manner that is clear, shows critical thinking and understanding of the subject, brings clarity to complexity or ambiguity, and is without jargon and technical terms (if complex language is essential explains the meaning with care and consistency).

Writing to Persuade

◾Uses the correct tone of writing for each type of briefing or advice, tailors the message for the audience and ensures that the correct impact is achieved on the reader; ensures any last minute changes do not change the tone or detract from the key message.

◾Uses the Minister’s preferred style and engages with Private Office to ensure the Minister’s requirements are fully met.

◾Seeks and responds intelligently to feedback, and proactively reviews own work.

◾Provides effective and confident oral briefing to Ministers, Special Advisers and senior colleagues.

◾Coaches, trains and mentors others in drafting.

◾Demonstrates knowledge of the purpose of the communication, the outcome sought and the potential impacts.

Working with the Parliament or Equivalent

A knowledgeable and skilled policy maker appreciates the unique role undertaken by civil servants in working with Parliament (or equivalent); understands the role of, and responsibilities to, Parliament (or equivalent) and acts accordingly; policy development reflects the political realities.


◾Demonstrates understanding of the powers and responsibilities of the Prime Minister, Cabinet, Ministers (or equivalents), Special Advisers and civil servants.

Constitutional Framework

◾Understands the basic mechanisms of law-making in the jurisdiction (e.g., Bills, Secondary legislation, Parliamentary Questions, Select Committees, Scrutiny Committees and Debates); interacts with the people who support them.

Courts, Tribunals, and Commissions

◾Identifies the risks and opportunities in the Parliamentary process, and manages expectations.

◾Builds productive working relationships and trust with: Ministers (or equivalents), Private Office(s), Special Advisers and organisations or experts representing citizens, businesses or other stakeholders; speaks with confidence and clarity in their presence, even when delivering a difficult message.

Machinery of Government

Institutional Dynamics within Government

◾Uses a network of contacts and experts in the Parliamentary (or equivalent) processes.

◾Drafts effective Parliamentary correspondence and provides high quality briefing in line with the preference of the Minister (or equivalent); prepares Minister(s) in preparation for interacting with Parliament; can foresee less obvious questions.

◾Engages with organisations or experts representing citizens, businesses or other stakeholders and considers their input; presents this for Parliamentary scrutiny.

◾Takes account of the wider political landscape when considering policy options; judges correctly those topics which are politically sensitive and handles accordingly.

Diversity, Identity, and Rights

Electoral Systems and Democratic Reform


A knowledgeable and skilled policy professional understands the importance of using public money effectively and ensuring these considerations are taken during policy development; understands the financial challenges and complexities behind the funding for the policy area and makes appropriate recommendations and decisions; delivers value for money even if not directly accountable for a budget.


◾Demonstrates familiarity with public sector financial guidance documents; confidently uses terms and concepts commonly referred to in public finance.

◾Drafts considered and compelling business cases.

◾Demonstrates working in partnership with financial specialists.

◾Provides advice and recommendations that show a detailed understanding of the relevant financial situation, a value for money approach and a clear understanding of risks; plans for and responds appropriately to changes in financial circumstances or concerns.

◾Handles numbers confidently and accurately; interprets a range of financial/performance/value for money data; tests financial assumptions and is able to identify appropriate monitor and review contribution towards expected outcomes.

Stakeholder Engagement

A knowledgeable and skilled policy professional engages with a range of stakeholders at all stages in the policy making process; knows who the stakeholders are and how best to engage with each; uses collaborative approaches – including digital tools and techniques – to ensure that the policy is informed by a broad range of input and expertise, and meets user needs.


◾Uses collaborative and direct approaches to engage with stakeholders from the earliest opportunity, throughout the development and implementation of the policy; plans when and how engagement will take place.

Consulting and Communicating on Policy

◾Uses effective methods to identify stakeholders and keep them engaged in the development of the policy, prioritising where to focus resource.

◾Adopts a broad range of appropriate and inclusive methods to engage and encourage collaboration in policy development, including the use of digital tools and techniques; works closely with communications professionals to find the best methods and ensure that the opportunity to engage is appropriately publicised.

◾Uses evidence from complaints, feedback and correspondence as a means of informing policy development.

◾Analyses input from stakeholders, calling upon the expertise of colleagues if necessary, and uses this to inform the evidence base when providing advice (e.g. to Ministers or equivalents, senior officials or Parliament).

◾Understands the legal principles of fair formal consultation the “Coughlan principles” (or equivalent) and considers them in devising any consultation; adheres to the Cabinet Office Consultation Principles (or equivalent) when conducting government consultations.

Working Intergovernmentally

A knowledgeable and skilled policy professional understands how the policy area and position of Government fits in the intergovernmental context; understands and uses key concepts and terminology; is able to represent the jurisdiction; negotiates effectively with intergovernmental counterparts.


◾Represents and advances the jurisdiction’s interests intergovernmentally; uses the most effective policy tools and channels to do so; effectively supports and briefs Ministers/senior officials for intergovernmental events or meetings.

The Study of Global Affairs and International Relations


Municipal Governance

Indigenous Governance

◾Negotiates effectively with representatives of intergovernmental organisations or other governments.

◾Builds and maintains relationships and works effectively with a wide range of internal and external stakeholders on intergovernmental policy.

◾Builds intergovernmental evidence, perspectives and thinking into their policy development at an early stage.

◾Recognises the impact and importance of understanding other cultures, and of developing/using other languages where appropriate.

The Study of the Socioeconomic Context for Politics and Policy


Policy delivery

Understanding the Delivery Context and Effective Implementation Planning

A knowledgeable and skilled policy professional understands the environment in which their policy will be delivered and uses a range of techniques to plan and prepare for possible outcomes when their policy is implemented.


◾Uses decision-making tools such as Impact Assessments to analyse the feasibility of options.

The Study of Implementation and Delivery

◾Facilitates effectively the early involvement of the people who will deliver the policy, and those impacted by it.

◾Engages effectively with internal functions and external experts on requirements for implementation.

Implementation and the Policy Cycle

Securing Legal Authority and Budgetary Resources

◾Identifies the risks and barriers that could affect implementation; proposes actions to manage risk; ensures that Ministers (or equivalents) understand the trade-offs.

Managing Risk

Controlling Fraud, Waste, and Abuse

Managing Emergencies and Crises

◾Decides what outcomes are to be achieved and how success and progress will be measured throughout pilots, implementation phases and delivery.

Recognizing Values



Organizing and Measuring for Performance

◾Demonstrates an understanding of delivery systems and the incentives within them.

Designing the Delivery Model

◾Delivers successful policy in a complex political, bureaucratic or budgetary context.

Building Resources

Handling Complexity

Working in Organizations

Program and Project Management

A knowledgeable and skilled policy professional understands the importance of planning and monitoring their policy development; uses various Program and Project Management tools and methods to ensure successful delivery and track progress.


◾Uses a range of project management techniques to deliver policies; applies the most appropriate principles and approaches.

The Study of Leadership and Communication

◾Identifies the capabilities and resources that are required for a successful project; develops these in existing staff or brings them into the team when needed; can effectively identify all the component parts required for policy implementation.

◾Communicates clearly the needs of the client (Minister or sponsor) to the project team and the rest of the organisation.

◾Schedules, budgets and produces accurate and timely reports for the project.

◾Identifies and evaluates risks and opportunities; develops strategies to manage and mitigate them; responds effectively to set-backs by identifying the causes, reflecting and learning from these experiences.

Managing Oneself

◾Assesses the progress of the project and makes trade-off decisions in order to produce the best results possible for all parties; helps others understand these trade-offs.

◾Brings in appropriate external assurance to ensure delivery of high quality products, including Infrastructure and Projects Authority (or equivalent) processes.

◾Reviews and captures learning from all project work so that this can be shared with others.

Commercial Impact

A knowledgeable and skilled policy professional understands the commercial context in which their policy will operate; engages with suppliers and commercial experts to achieve the best possible outcome; ensures that policies deliver value for money.


◾Considers commercial risks and their impact on policy implementation and the wider implications of the policy on the full range of affected parties; assesses the financial impact when considering options, including effective risk appraisal.

The Study of Economics

◾Shows awareness of the companies and sectors that are affected by the policy area; reflects on experience of applying knowledge in one or two scenarios.

◾Builds and uses networks of commercial colleagues and seeks their advice throughout the policy making process; communicates clearly and confidently with commercial experts.

◾Demonstrates an understanding of key commercial concepts including how markets may react to policy announcements and (where appropriate) proactively engages with the market to assess the viability and implications of policies.

Producer Theory and Competition

Monopoly and Price Discrimination

Asymmetric Information, Signaling, and Game Theory

◾Undertakes research into company performance, and understands basic financial investment terminology; uses this in policy development.

◾Engages and negotiates with suppliers, knows the key commercial stakeholders in the policy area (including those outside of Government); manages contracts with third party suppliers, delivering value for money.

◾Leads and improves sourcing and contract management processes and practices; ensures value for money is achieved.


A knowledgeable and skilled policy professional understands the importance of including how outcomes will be evaluated at an early stage of policy development; uses research and trials to inform policies; understands and uses a range of evaluation techniques.


◾Uses evidence, analysis, and evaluation when making policy recommendations.

Evaluation and the Policy Cycle

◾Uses the most common methods to evaluate impacts; suggests when certain evaluation methods should be used and interpret such results; identifies methodological flaws that could undermine a research study or policy conclusion.

The Study of Evaluation and Performance Measurement

◾Integrates rapid evaluation techniques into policy design and implementation.

◾Demonstrates use of key concepts (e.g. statistical significance, confidence intervals and random sampling).

◾Commissions research; understands own role within this.

◾Takes responsibility for role in the publication of research.

◾Carries out simple trial design, survey design and analysis; draws upon expert quality assurance and guidance as appropriate.

◾Engages professional researchers from the earliest stages, and throughout, policy development.

◾Critiques research on its robustness; identifies the appropriate conclusions.

User Centred Design, Digital and Behavioural Insights

A knowledgeable and skilled policy professional takes into account genuine user needs when developing their policy; understands the impact for end users; uses a range of tools and techniques to gather evidence and test policy solutions.


◾Generates and explores a broad range of possible ideas in response to policy challenges; responds constructively to challenge.

Promoting Innovation and Driving Change

Promoting Learning

◾Applies the most common factors in policy and operational design (e.g. identifying and reducing “frictions” (“make it easy”), understanding and developing prototypes and trial-based policy designs); tests and prototypes ideas throughout the policy development.

◾Demonstrates use of simple design techniques, and when to engage with experts; selects appropriate methods, tools and techniques and encourages others to do likewise; uses open policy making tools and techniques.

Organizational Design and Behaviour

Modernizing Government

TQM, Six Sigma, and Lean

◾Demonstrates confidence using digital engagement tools safely and with appropriate security in place; promotes the “digital first” approach to providing information and services.

◾Shares ideas with experts and the public, building networks to help inform policy development and using co-design to generate ideas.

Implementing through Partners and Networks

Persuasion and Negotiation

A knowledgeable and skilled policy professional understands the importance of other viewpoints in policy development; engages with internal and external stakeholders of all levels; uses a range of methods to communicate persuasively.


◾Identifies key issues; prepares, plans and sets objectives for negotiations based on these.



◾Demonstrates active listening, openness to challenge and testing out ideas; reaches conclusions based on this.

◾Demonstrates an understanding of the wider objectives or politics in the policy area.

◾Tailors approach based on the perspectives, preferences and behavioural styles of the other party.

◾Presents arguments well, orally and in writing; adapts tone and style appropriately.

Speaking to Persuade

◾Reacts calmly to opposition; understands when to be proactive and when to listen, maintains relationships even where there is strong disagreement; stays positive and focused on finding a solution; makes any necessary trade-offs.

◾Builds relationships outside of negotiating circumstances and understands the value of reciprocity.

◾Effectively influences groups of people to help take forward objectives and achieve win-win outcomes.

◾Recognises who is authorised to change constraints, and presents options to them, to secure the best possible outcome.

NOTES to Exhibit 1: The following modifications have been made to the skills and competency descriptions in UK Policy Profession Standards 2019.

  • “Level 2 Skills” becomes “Level 2 Competencies”
  • “Knowledge of Policy Making in your Policy Area” becomes “Knowledge of Policy Making” with no change to the competency descriptions
  • “Working with Parliament” becomes “Working with Parliament or Equivalent” with minor changes to the competency descriptions to include equivalent entities in different levels of government
  • “Devolution” is not included
  • “Working Internationally and Exiting the European Union” becomes “Working Intergovernmentally” with changes to drop references to the European Union and to include working with other governments within and outside the country
  • “Commercial” becomes “Commercial Impact” with no change to the competency descriptions
  • “Communicating with Influence” becomes “Persuasion and Negotiation” with no change to the competency descriptions


Exhibit 2: Atlas topics not yet included in Exhibit 1
(organized by Atlas subject)

Economic Analysis
Macroeconomic Policy

The Study of Macroeconomics

Wealth of Nations and Economic Growth

Growth, Capital Accumulation, and the Financial System

Business Cycles and Unemployment

Inflation and Monetary Policy

Government Spending and Fiscal Policy

Quantitative Methods
Socioeconomic and Political Context

Income Inequality and Poverty

Immigration and Integration

Gender Inequality

Indigenous Peoples

Political Advocacy and the Nonprofit Sector

Global Context

National Security Considerations

International Organizations and Agreements

Evaluation and Performance Measurement

Fundamental Identification Problem: Causality, Counterfactual Responses, Heterogeneity, Selection

Assessing the Confounding Effects of Unobserved Factors

Sensitivity Analysis

Data Collection Strategies

Performance Measurement and Performance Management

Analytic Methods

The Study of Analytic Methods for Public Management

Decision Analysis

Cost-Benefit Analysis

Project Management

Environment and Sustainability

The Study of Environmental Policy and Sustainability

Environmental Risks and Hazards

Regulatory Choices in Environmental Policy

Governance and Institutions
Policy Analysis and Process
Implementation and Delivery
Leadership Skills
Communication Skills
Ethics, Rights, and Accountability

Paternalism and the Welfare State

Human Rights, Liberty and Limits

Public Financial Management

The Study of Financial Management in the Public Sector

Planning and Budgeting

Costing and Forecasting

Capital Budgeting

Management Control in Public Expenditure

Audit and Oversight of Public Expenditure

Human Resource Management

The Study of HRM in the Public Sector

Promoting Excellence and Diversity

Workplace Issues and Labour Relations

Information and Technology Management

The Study of Information and Technology Management in the Public Sector

Managing New Technologies

Information Management and Cybersecurity


UK Civil Service Learning (2019), Policy Profession – Policy Profession Standards, at, accessed 31 March 2019.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified 14 April 2019.

Image: Policy Profession – Policy Profession Standards, UK Civil Service Learning, at, accessed 31 March 2019.