Reading Policy Documents

Young activists in Mozambique
The voices of young people must be heard! One way this is done is through U-report, also known as SMS BIZ in Mozambique. U-report is UNICEF’s free digital youth engagement tool, which is now active in 53 countries, benefiting more than 6 million users worldwide.

As a reminder, a policy is a set of plans or methods to make decisions or achieve a course of action. Reading and making comments on a policy may seem scary, but you, as a young person, have a voice and should be allowed to engage with any policy that affects your life.

Being able to read, understand and comment on policy is an important skill to develop, and you shouldn’t be discouraged if you find policy participation difficult. The more you do it the better you will become at it.

Let’s be honest, policy documents can be boring or difficult to read. Often they are both.

Start by reading through the document to determine if the policy aligns with your issue.

Here are some useful steps:

  • Begin by reading the table of contents to get a sense of what is contained in the document;
  • Read the introduction and executive summary – this will give you a good overview of what the document is about;
  • When you come across new or difficult words, use a dictionary or web search to improve your understanding. You will be surprised at how much simpler the document becomes once you understand key concepts and terms;
  • Doing a ‘keyword search’ on the document can be useful to investigate: 1) how often ‘youth’ is mentioned; 2) how often the subject issue is mentioned, e.g. education, health, gender-based violence; and 3) the context in which these are mentioned;
  • Pay special attention to the language used, particularly in the action items. Is the language committal or non-committal, for example, “We will eradicate poverty by 2030” or “We encourage the eradication of poverty by 2030.” We can hold leaders accountable based on what they have committed to do and not what they encourage or motivate;
  • Analyse the sources of the information used in the policy document;
  • Google keywords from the policy document to see if there are any credible news reports, summaries, or additional sources of information on the topic;
  • Get help. Reach out to other young people, or others from your network to discuss and interrogate the document. If the policy document is new it might be good to gather a group and discuss it together;
  • Once you have understood a policy, you may also want to conduct further research regarding an issue. A policy may have good statistics, provide information about the history of the subject matter, and which stakeholders are involved. Make notes and investigate further.

You may need to read the document several times or ask for help to fully grasp the content. If you notice there are gaps in the document, or the policy does not effectively speak to the needs of the community, start making notes on how this can be improved. For example, if the policy document does not mention youth as a stakeholder, or it discriminates against marginalised groups, these are clear areas that need to be amended.  


Now that you've read the policy document, let's have a look at how you can comment on these!


Interested in doing advocacy? Read more about how you can champion change through advocacy here! And make sure to check out our full Youth Advocacy Guide.