Communicating health research (11) Q1. What do we mean by ˜Effective communication of health research to policymakers? How do we measure it? (1)

4 September, 2022

Thanks for introducing this topic, Neil. This is to offer an opinion on an indirect way of communicating health research to policy makers which is often underestimated or ignored.

On one hand we have researchers and on the other policy makers:

Researchers have been academically prepared and trained by experience and example to write up their work according to a standard format known to everybody. The research is then submitted to a journal for publication, where it is usually reviewed by another researcher or academic, and then - if it clears all the hurdles - published in what is typically a low-circulation journal only read by other academics and researchers working in the field. Citations in later publications give it some continued life. If the author is lucky, the paper will be collected up into a systematic review, or form part of a policy paper extracted from a collection of papers published on a particular topic.

Policy makers (in the expanded definition adopted here) range from complete politicians who may have no scientific background or academic competence, to subject specialists who are themselves former researchers and academics. Most policy makers lie between these two extremes. In most countries, the former instruct the latter - health policy is usually set at senior levels, typically (but not always) in a ministry of health.

It is nice to imagine that health policy makers spend their Sundays reading academic biomedical journals - or even the policy briefs laboriously prepared for them by intermediaries - nice, but completely unlikely. Instead, they kick on the TV, grab the newspaper, listen to a podcast or read a tweet. To them, whatever health issue is making the headlines is clearly the most important one, especially in democratic societies where no elected official wants angry or disappointed voters. Only after consuming the evening news do they reluctantly begin to peruse their policy briefs.

So if new health research is to be taken up by policy makers, there needs to be a strong and conscious effort for the research community to interact with the media. Let's remember that the aim is not just R2P - research to policy but R2P2P - research to policy, and then from policy to practice. (The latter is actually the point of the whole exercise.) The application of policy implies creating community understanding and awareness, and this will never come purely from research published in academic journals.

We need joint efforts, collaborations and partnerships between research and media. HIFA could consider what mechanisms are possible for such interaction, and advocate for establishing them.

Chris Zielinski

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Research publications:

HIFA profile: Chris Zielinski: As a Visiting Fellow in the Centre for Global Health, Chris leads the Partnerships in Health Information (Phi) programme at the University of Winchester. Formerly an NGO, Phi supports knowledge development and brokers healthcare information exchanges of all kinds. Chris has held senior positions in publishing and knowledge management with WHO in Brazzaville, Geneva, Cairo and New Delhi, with FAO in Rome, ILO in Geneva, and UNIDO in Vienna. Chris also spent three years in London as Chief Executive of the Authors Licensing and Collecting Society. He was the founder of the ExtraMED project (Third World biomedical journals on CD-ROM), and managed the Gates Foundation-supported Health Information Resource Centres project. He served on WHO’s Ethical Review Committee, and was an originator of the African Health Observatory. Chris has been a director of the World Association of Medical Editors, UK Copyright Licensing Agency, Educational Recording Agency, and International Association of Audiovisual Writers and Directors. He has served on the boards of several NGOs and ethics groupings (information and computer ethics and bioethics). UK-based, he is also building houses in Zambia. Email- chris AT

His publications are at and and his blogs are and