Policy and research analysts specialise in ideas and solutions. They study complex public issues and work to develop policy proposals for addressing them. These analysts, often called policy analysts, research analysts or researchers, work in policy research organisations (sometimes called "think tanks") and government organisations. Policy and research analysis requires extensive research skills, intellectual curiosity and a passionate interest in public policy issues.
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Policy and research analysts can be found in private/non-profit firms and government agencies. Many public policy analysts work for policy research firms known as think tanks. As described by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, these organisations serve as "idea factories" for studying complex issues and proposing policy solutions. Many think tanks promote a particular ideological or political viewpoint, while others concentrate on specific areas of public policy, such as health, education, defence or environmental issues. Other policy and research analysts work in government. They may work for legislators, legislative committees or government agencies. These analysts not only analyse proposed solutions, but also conduct evaluations of existing policies and programs.
Many existing laws and public policies in effect had their beginnings as ideas proposed by policy analysts in think tanks, universities and other organisations. Through their studies, research analysts raise public awareness of important issues and bring policy solutions to the attention of key government decision makers.
Policy analysts work to shape and influence the direction and content of public policy. They collect information--statistical and otherwise--to explore social issues and other problems that may be on the agenda of government policy makers. Analysts then develop and explain proposed policy solutions, using qualitative and quantitative data to explain the proposals they offer. Analysts employed by think tanks may testify to congressional committees and legislative panels about their proposed solutions. Think tanks also market their policy analysts' ideas and solutions to academics, the media and others by selling books, papers, briefs, reports and other publications. Policy analysts employed by government agencies not only analyse policy proposals, but also evaluate existing policies and programs.
Reports and other materials on public issues and policy solutions help educate the public, the media and government policy makers. Through their work, analysts can help influence the direction of public policy. Evaluation of current policies helps weigh the costs and benefits of programs and measure their effectiveness. This information helps decision makers in the legislative and executive branches of government determine whether existing public programs should continue, receive additional funding or be abolished.
Working as a policy and research analyst, whether in government or in a think tank or other organisation, requires a degree in a social science field, such as economics, political science or sociology. The best opportunities in policy analysis exist for individuals with graduate degrees (master's or doctorate) in a social science field. Analysts need excellent research skills, the ability to analyse statistical and other types of data, and excellent written and oral communication skills. Salaries for policy analysts vary widely with place of employment. Salaries for analysts in think tanks, for example, depend on the organisation's source of funding. Think tank funding sources include corporate and philanthropic donations, government grants and revenue from sale of books and other materials the organisation produces.
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