1. Ctrl-f is your best friend
The length of consultation documents, the complexity of legislation, the sheer volume of research and briefings was a daunting prospect when I initially started. Part of the Policy Officer art is in being able to understand something complex or lengthy pretty quickly and, more importantly, understand the impact and opportunities on the sector.
2. At events, the real work begins when you arrive at the coffee station or go to the buffet
You’re inundated with events to attend… both for your own organisation and being a representative at others. I’ve learned quickly that the buffet queue or coffee station is where the real value of most events lie. Particularly if you’re trying to put across some complex points about how the sector works, stuff around more than bricks and mortar to someone with a basic understanding of what housing associations do… it’s far tougher for them to walk away whilst scoffing down a slice of quiche.
3. Decide on a one liner to describe what you do, and stick to it…
I’ve tried not to worry too much about the fact that my Nan thinks I work for a Local Authority, my Mum thinks I build homes and my partner has given up trying to explain what I do altogether. My one liner has always been “I work for a housing charity”… most people are happy enough to take that and leave it there. Anyone who has probed further has, no doubt, after I’ve finished my 30 minute explanation, learnt their lesson.
4. Carry a food bag
As someone who can’t function when hungry I’ve made constant use of a food bag to enhance my ability to eat well between meetings, event and the office. Policy, if it were a sport, would be an endurance sport with a few sprints added in for good measure. For me, bananas, fig rolls, seeds and nuts, apples, jaffa cakes, dark chocolate, peanut butter have all made regular or guest appearances.
5. Be passionate and believe in the work
When most people think Policy Officer they don’t think excitement, explosions etc. It’s true that you’re more Q than you are 007 - equipping the sector for the challenges ahead. But it can be dry, so being passionate about what you’re helping to achieve, and believing that it’s genuinely the answer to complex socio-economic challenges, is vital.
I’ll still, where beneficial and appropriate, highlight the role of housing associations in improving health, tackling poverty and working with communities. Not because of any feeling of obligation to do so, but because seeing the impact of housing associations, and being part of developing the thinking around improving health through housing, has had a permanent impact on my own belief system.
So those are my 5 (not so) Golden Rules for being a Policy Officer.
In the words of one of my idols, and role models - Stay classy CHC.
Matt will be starting his new role as Policy Officer at Macmillan Cymru next week. Pob lwc, Matt!