20 Questions for Policy & Strategy Design

A practical guide for navigating the complexity of contemporary problem-solving and policy & strategy design challenges

Build a deep understanding of the situation, and what you’re trying to achieve

1 Clarity on the problem and desired outcomes

What is the issue? And what is the the change you want to see as a result of what you do?

2  Knowns and unknowns

What is the question you are answering? What do you know and what do you need to find out?

3 Understanding the problem

What are the policy and political context and constraints? Why is the situation occurring and what is the background?

Find clever ways to achieve outcomes

4 Analytical techniques & system design

If we analyse available data and think about ways to re-design the system, what potential levers and courses of action emerge?

5  Think creatively

If we think about the problem and solution from different angles, what ideas and insights emerge?

7 People and Behavioural insights

What factors influence what people think and do in this context? What unconscious biases might be influencing people (including ourselves) and are sufficient conditions for behavioural change in place?

Rigorously think ideas through

7 Goal design

Have the targets, goals and KPIs been designed so that they are useful rather than distorting the system?

8  Assumptions and Necessary Conditions

What assumptions have you implicitly and explicitly made, and have you tested them? Are the conditions required for your ideas to be successful in your context, in place?

9 Consequences, Trade-offs and Assessing Options

What are the consequences and trade-offs likely to be?  How do the options compare?

10 Detailed design, Integration and Implementation

What needs to be considered to transition the strategy from ideas to the real world?  How will this work in practice? What needs to be done to put it into practice?


Understand and explain to others how and why you think the strategy will work

11 Policy Logic

How will the things you plan to do lead to the changes you want?

12 Policy rationale (Evidence-based policy Part I)

What are the reasons for thinking the strategy will work? What are the counter-arguments? Is the reasoning sound?

13 Information & data (Evidence-based policy Part II)

What information supports (and contests) the reasons for thinking the policy will work? Is it sound?

Engage Others

14 Interdisciplinary perspectives

What do (all) stakeholders think (about everything)?

15  Contested ideas & collaboration

Which ideas are contested and why?  Are the conditions for collaboration in place?

16 Compelling communication

How can we explain our ideas so they are understood by, and resonate with others?

Cope with uncertainty by adapting to things that change and to what we learn along the way

17  Learning & adaptive design

How will the strategy design process be flexible so that the strategy can adapt to things that change and to what we learn along the way?

18 Agility: Risk, Innovation and the Future

How will the strategy and the organisation be agile so they are resilient to threats and ready for opportunities?

19 Evaluation, Experimentation, Measurement & Knowledge-sharing

What works and what doesn’t?


20 Deepen understanding & insight at every opportunity

Really?, Why?, and, What’s the ‘so what’?

This is how the 20 Questions are intended to be used:

  • Use the 20 Questions as a checklist or guide.  The 20 Questions (and practical techniques to help answer them) can be used as a toolkit (draw on the one that’s relevant to what you are doing at a particular point in time), but, they are most useful as a package deal.  Either use them as a checklist to ensure you’ve thought about everything you should, or, better still as a guide for systematically (but iteratively) developing a thoroughly thought-through strategy.  A strategy document could even be structured into 20 sections grouped into 5 parts.
  • Prompt your thinking.  The 20 Questions don’t provide you with answers, or do the thinking for you.  Rather they prompt you for what needs to be thought about. The techniques help you do that.
  • Iterative and adaptive.  Despite the 20 questions appearing in a sequential list overleaf, they are intended to be asked over and over again, iteratively, throughout a strategy design and implementation process.  This may be over the course of years.  The questions stay the same – it is the answers to the questions that evolve over time as things change and as we learn from testing our ideas.
  • Use them for any endeavour.  The 20 Questions are versatile and flexible because they can be used when planning a strategy or approach for just about anything – public sector (from small tasks to large cross-cutting taskforces), private sector, even our personal lives.  The specific details for particular contexts come through in the emphasis you decide is appropriate to give to each question, and, the answers.
  • Use them throughout the policy development cycle.  The 20 Questions are the same questions you ask on the first day right through to the last day you are considering a strategy.  What changes, is the emphasis you give to the questions, and, the answers.
  • Anyone can ask the questions.  The 20 Questions can be asked by anyone, of anyone and that’s where much of their potential lies.  Citizens in an electorate can ask them of their government representatives.  Elected public officials can ask their Ministers, Ministers can ask their public service departments, and departments can ask them of their policy staff.  In this way they encourage more accountable, deeper and deliberative policy discussion.
  • Ask them in no particular order, and concurrently where possible.  While the order given on the previous page is a very general guide, in practice, the order will be much ‘messier’.  Questions should be asked concurrently – in particular Questions 19 and 20 should be asked in conjunction with every other question.  Generally speaking, the earlier questions would get most attention early in a strategy design process and the latter ones would receive more attention later in the process, but all questions should be asked and re-visited throughout.

Our seminar series and workshops build capabilities across all these essential elements of problem-solving and policy and strategy design.  Download the seminar series and workshop flyer for more information.

Higher-order thinking

You can ask these 20 questions of any challenge to help generate ideas and insight.  They prompt you think strategically, critically, creatively, analytically and embed systems thinking, design thinking, and futures thinking concepts.