Enhancing our advice

This page provides information about the tools we use to enhance our policy advice.

Our Four Year Plan outlines our long-term goals, strategic priorities and four year excellence horizon, and our mission and how we achieve it. These tools support how we approach our work. Within that plan, the Strategy on a Page summarises our purpose and next steps.

A key element of Strategy on a Page is Policy Plus, which means that we:

  • actively shape the agenda
  • advise with impact
  • focus on supporting decisions
  • use different approaches and perspectives to problem solve, and
  • address the whole environmental management system.

Natural Resources Framework

We are part of the Natural Resources Sector which is a collection of government agencies focused on providing more integrated and consistent high-quality policy advice on natural resources. Together we developed the Natural Resources Framework to craft robust and resilient policy that promotes the effective stewardship and kaitiakitanga of New Zealand’s natural resources. 


COBRA provides Ministry staff with concepts, frameworks and tools to use in developing quality policy advice. It helps identify opportunities, risks and alternative options. COBRA is used across the Ministry and provides a common approach and language to policy development.

While the tools contained in COBRA generally remain valid, the document does not at this stage reflect the Strategy on a Page approach. Work on implementing Policy Plus will address this through supplementary material or by directly replacing or updating COBRA.

View our COBRA policy guide as a PDF [2 MB]
View our COBRA policy guide as a Word version [2.3 MB]

This image illustrates the COBRA policy process the Ministry uses to develop quality policy advice.

Professionalising policy guide

This guide helps our staff develop their skills and career in policy analysis. It helps them plan their development and acquire new skills and experience. It also helps them identify development opportunities.

View our Professionalising policy guide as a PDF [1.5 MB] 
View our Professionalising policy guide as a Word version [DOC, 2 MB]

Quality assessment

We have a comprehensive approach to quality of advice, overseen by a Community of Practice of staff across the organisation, which covers commissioning, peer review, assessment and feedback. 

Specific training is provided on commissioning, peer review, analysis fundamentals and story-telling. 

Material available to staff includes:

  • CARDD-Key handout on commissioning and being commissioned
  • guidance on commissioning and providing peer review.

We review the quality of our policy advice on average 8-10 times a year. A random sample of 10 policy papers each time is selected and assessed by a panel against objective criteria. The panel includes an external chair, a principal analyst, and a rotation of directors and managers. All managers and authors of assessed papers receive feedback on areas for improvement.

This process ensures we track improvement to the quality of our policy advice. It also ensures our staff receive objective feedback on their policy work.

Quality assessment criteria 

Context, consultation and collaboration Advice is put in context, links to the desired future state and exposes opportunities, risks and implications for affected groups addressed

Considers the current state (eg, infrastructure, social norms and attitudes, relevant issues of the day, current strategies, system dynamics, points of leverage), and how current policy settings affect it, and prior advice and decisions (including agency or sector strategies)

Considers the vision for the future and ongoing stewardship responsibilities (eg, regulatory stewardship)

Exposes differing points of view and objectives of stakeholders and the implications of advice for affected parties

Describes opportunities that can be leveraged and risks to be managed

Options Advice balances what is desirable, can be delivered and is cost effective

Scopes a range of options (including doing nothing) showing expected results and links to desired outcomes (eg, using intervention logic and/or benefits realisation)

Articulates how the options can be delivered and what would be required to implement

Establishes the best option using criteria that are transparent and focused on results, implement-ability and costs vs benefits; and appropriate to the size and complexity of the decisions being made

Analysis Advice is informed by evidence and insights and analytically sound

Is informed by credible evidence (research, data, evaluation) and insights from different points of view (eg, citizen-customer, operational, institutional or agency perspectives), admits assumptions, gaps and weaknesses in evidence and the knowledge base


Accurately identifies the problem or opportunity and its size, scope and immediacy


Uses analytical frameworks/strategies to elevate analysis and make sense of information (eg, market failure, comparative institutional analysis, competition impact, cost benefit analysis, living standards framework)

Advice and actions Advice engages the decision maker and tells the full story

Makes action oriented recommendations and identifies next steps

Takes account of the decision maker's views, but is frank, honest & apolitical about the best way forward


Is in a format that fits the decision maker’s style preferences and intended use(s)

Is engaging, easy to digest and error free. Meets process and legal requirements

Customer focus

Starts with a clear purpose and tells a coherent story


Is well staged and well timed – hits the decision maker at the right time

Conveys the policy intent and what success will look like; links proposed actions to objectives and desired outcomes