What is a brief?

 

What Goes into Curating a Policy Circle Brief?

I’m Kristin Jackson, and I am the editor of The Policy Circle briefs which are at the heart of the Policy Circle  roundtable discussions that take place across the country. We are often asked: who writes the briefs? Is the information reliable?

The Policy Circle curates existing research to provide you with a roadmap for informed discussions.  Each Policy Circle brief provides historical context, facts to know, principles for reform and an overview of both the government’s role and ideas for action on a given topic.  In addition, each brief provides thought-leaders to follow in order to stay up-to-date or to learn more, and suggests questions for deeper discussion. Importantly, the content is gathered from credible, cited sources ranging from government data to investigative journalism and academic studies. Citations are included so you can  access in-depth sources for more information.

By starting with the agreed upon historical basics of an issue, the brief often comes across a bump in the road where perspectives on an issue diverge. An example is the topic of unions:  some view them as essential to protecting worker interests in the context of contract negotiations while others view them as obstacles to innovation and excellence. At that bump in the road, the Policy Circle brief cites academic studies or government data alongside the public opinion context on both sides of the issue.  Once the reader gains a full 360 degree view of that sub-issue, granting respect to the rooted arguments on both sides, the journey continues.

When you finish reading a brief, you have data, definitions and context for understanding a policy topic, be it education, poverty, immigration or energy and the environment,  as well as a better understanding of the sub-issues that make a policy debate so complicated.

While policy is often used for political gain – to differentiate candidates and disparage an opponent through his or her policy stance – history demonstrates that deeply understanding and debating various policy approaches is vital to a vibrant democracy. Understanding and fact-based debate is at the core of each Policy Circle brief.

What Perspective is Applied When Curating the Briefs

But what perspective, or ideological prism,  is The Policy Circle editor looking through when curating these briefs? Well, let me be specific….

The philosophers who inspired our Founding Fathers set the scene. As Bret Stephens explains, back then policy disagreements didn’t just hoarsen voices, they sharpened one’s thinking.

“Socrates quarrels with Homer. Aristotle quarrels with Plato. Locke quarrels with Hobbes and Rousseau quarrels with them both. Nietzsche quarrels with everyone. Wittgenstein quarrels with himself.

“These quarrels are never personal. Nor are they particularly political, at least in the ordinary sense of politics. Sometimes they take place over the distance of decades, even centuries.

“Most importantly, they are never based on a misunderstanding. On the contrary, the disagreements arise from perfect comprehension; from having chewed over the ideas of your intellectual opponent so thoroughly that you can properly spit them out.

“In other words, to disagree well you must first understand well. You have to read deeply, listen carefully, watch closely.

“You need to grant your adversary moral respect; give him the intellectual benefit of doubt; have sympathy for his motives and participate empathically with his line of reasoning. And you need to allow for the possibility that you might yet be persuaded of what he has to say.”

Thankfully for us as a nation, our founding fathers also engaged in debate to sharpen thinking. With Jefferson and Madison alongside Hamilton and Adams, this unique and lasting ‘American experiment’ embodies robust differences of opinion.  

Take the relationship between Jefferson and Adams. They were close friends who worked together to write the Declaration of Independence, respected each other and spent years (near and far) corresponding about their beliefs. They defended and explained their stances, while taking time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the counter position. Politics drove them apart for ten years at the height of their political careers when they served as back-to-back U.S. Presidents, alongside the daily fear that the American experiment could come crashing to a halt. Yet they maintained their esteem for each other and resumed their correspondence for 15 years prior to their death, both passing on July 4th, 1826. (Monticello)

Jefferson was never going to support a strong central government, and Adams was never going to believe that power was best delegated to all the individual states – but they truly respected each other enough to listen to, and learn from, each other’s perspectives.

For a more recent example, look no further than the late Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

This NPR piece explains how the staunch liberal justice and staunch conservative justice were “best buddies” who ‘made each other better.’

We are all better, stronger, and smarter when we have a “working colleague and treasured friend” as Scalia and Ginsburg had in each other.

 

This is the passion behind The Policy Circle briefs. If I am not confident that individuals who look at the world from opposite angles (the Ginsburg and the Scalia) will find fairness and value in the brief’s analysis then I know more work is needed to provide a full understanding of the given topic.

Every point-of-view that has made it into mainstream debate deserves a fair representation of where it originated and why it remains.

The Policy Circle briefs should inspire you with a roadmap to understand well, read deeply, listen carefully, and watch closely.

 

About The Editor

Kristin Jackson is a policy editor for The Policy Circle.  Kristin has a Master’s degree in Government from Georgetown University, worked in the international not-for-profit sector and provided crisis management and public affairs consulting on domestic policy in the private sector. She also worked in Congress for five years, most recently as a senior staffer on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.