The Evolution of the Internet and the Information Society

Briefing Note
A briefing note is the essential tool of decision-making for any organization involved in policy analysis. It is the
mechanism for the subject matter experts of an organization to feed up essential information to senior management.
Although you can assume that these decision makers – your audience – has a basic understanding of the issue, it is up to
you to only provide the most pertinent information, presented in a logical progression.
All briefing notes should provide a succinct statement of the issue, essential background information, the current status,
considerations and implications of the issue, and the recommendations made or directions sought, if any. Briefing notes
are short; your assignment should not exceed four pages (double-spaced, 12-pt font), and must be clear and accurate.
Grading for these assignments is divided into two broad categories, style and substance.
 Style – the overall look and feel of the product
o Structure: product must conform to stylistic conventions (in terms of organization, formatting, length
etc.) set out in the Briefing Note Content Guidelines located on the cuLearn homepage.
o Precision: clarity and accuracy of the content. Efficient and effective use of space and allocation
between the different sections.
 Substance – though short, the briefing note must convey a high level of understanding, insight and strategic thinking
on the issue.
o Strength of analysis: must demonstrate a strong understanding and research base, but also good
judgement in only including the most salient implications of the evidence presented. Analysis should
align with the priorities and objectives of the audience. Research should align with the recommendation
(i.e., not just ‘interesting facts’).
o Strength of recommendation: ultimately the purpose of these products is to provide useable and useful
advice to decision-makers, this means that it has to be a realistic recommendations, and in the decisionmaker’s best interest. There must also

be a convincing argument that would hypothetically make this an
‘easy decision’ for your audience. As part of this, your audience should have a clear understanding of the
risks of action or inaction after reading your piece.
A briefing note is typically initiated when an issue arises that needs to be brought to the decision maker’s attention, or
that the decision maker has requested a recommendation on. We will provide a scenario for each briefing note
assignment. When reading the scenario, consider the following:
 Who is the audience (and what are their priorities and objectives)?
 What is being asked (e.g. what will be the deliverable of the recommendation)?
 Why is this an issue that deserves the attention of the audience? Does it have implications for your
organization? why or why not?
 When did this become an important issue? Where is it happening?
 How does the recommendation align with priorities? How will the organization’s stakeholders respond?
COMM 3409C: The Evolution of the Internet and the Information Society
Briefing Note #1 Scenario
You are a policy analyst working for the Internet Architecture Board (IAB).
Recently, Apple Inc. was ordered to help the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States Government hack
a cell phone belonging to one of the shooters in the San Bernardino attack in 2015. Specifically, Apple was ordered to
provide or create software that would override default security features in the iPhone 5 and iOS9.
The Internet technical community has taken a keen interest in this request because of the precedent-setting changes it
might have on the fundamental properties of the Internet (a.k.a. Leslie Daigle’s Internet invariants), and its contribution
to the ongoing debate on encryption ‘backdoors.’
A Vice President of Public Affairs and Government Relations at Apple has sent letters to Internet technical organizations,
including the IAB, asking that they publically support Apple’s opposition to the FBI’s efforts to “undermine decades of
security advancements” that protect customers.
You have been tasked with recommending the course of action the head of the IAB should take in response to the letter.

3-4 pages

For Decision

TITLE: State ongoing topic and specific aspect or angle of this note
This stand-alone section provides an overview of 3-4 key points the receiver MUST know. It REFLECTS the body of the note. Each point may be 2-3

short sentences.
• First, state thepurpose and main issue and provide context.
“The purpose of this note is to seek your decision regarding…”
• Next, list the major considerations – the rationale. The bullet points should be in complete and concise sentences.
• End with key recommendation OR major next step.
“It is recommended that….”
A “background” section answers very specific questions that the executive might have about context of the issue. (immediate past)

• Why did this become a problem or an issue?
• What led up to this situation?
• What past incidents are critical to know about in order to understand the current situation? When – where?
• What are precedents (past decisions)?
• Who are the players?

Build to the present situation such as, what is happening at present, what is the current stage or phase of the project, negotiations, or


TIP:Provide a brief synopsis of the origin of the issue, describe progress, and identify challenges to date. If needed, add a detailed

chronology and/or technical materials into annexes.
This section expands on the arguments upon which the summary is based. It contains an analysis of the relevant facts around the issue and the

implications or interpretation of those facts.

Depending on your issue, in this section:

• Explain issue in light of departmental/ Ministerial mandate.Note limitations to Minister’s authority.

• Link the issue to the overall goals of the government and departmental priorities. (Speech from the Throne, the Budget, etc.)

• Consider Federal-Provincial implications.

• Identify the result of proceeding and of NOT proceeding with the recommended course of action – risks of action or inaction.

• State what impact the issue may have, such as media attention, political considerations, or stakeholder involvement.

• State impacts:
• policy implications
• legal implications
• international
• social
• economic /financial implications
• stakeholder
• regional implications
• Note results of your consultations (within and without the department) such as positions of stakeholders.Briefly describe how the

concerns expressed are or will be addressed – or can be responded to, if needed.

TIP: Remember to keep the level of detail and the type of information you present appropriate to the decision-maker. Keep technical information

to a minimum and replace jargon with explanations in plain language. If needed, add technical material in an annex.

You are asked to provide a description of the optional courses of action.

Options should only be within the decision-maker’s ability to implement. If you are putting forward options, make sure you put forward some

good choices – that are all possible. Usually 2 options are needed, maximum 3.
Option 1.Title each option. Then briefly describe it. Follow with the pros and cons of the option in points. Assess each option equally and

fairly, evaluating each against the same set of criteria.

• State these in complete sentences.
• Use bullets to make it easy to follow your logic.
• Keep to a maximum of 4 -5 bullets.

Opti0on 2.Title : Provide description in two to three sentences.
NOTE: The preferred option is then recommended in the final section of the note, usually under the heading RECOMMENDATION.


In one sentence, the recommendation indicates the action required of the reader. It offers a specific course of action. The bottom-line should

be clear and state directly whether or not the Minister should take action – and what action is appropriate. The recommendation should be


The recommendation should be based on the balanced and rigorous analysis and research summarized in the previous sections of the note.The

recommendation may state the organizational position on the issue.
TIP: Recommendations should:
• be fully supported by conclusions and analysis
• be numbered
• be limited
• within the executive’s authority to implement
• respect the executive’s priorities
• link to actions as stated in the Summary


  • Enter the code: AE30