Communicating health research (60) Q1. What do we mean by Effective communication of health research? (14)

21 September, 2022

Dear Neil, dear all

Thanks for picking up on some of my thoughts from last week, you raise some interesting discussion points.

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"Not all health research recommends a change in policy or practice, and often such recommendations are not specific. Some research may even recommend current policy to stay as it is."

-> This is very true and important to remember. I would argue, however, that no change in policy or practice is also a recommendation worth communicating, with the desired outcome of maintaining and strengthening an existing policy or practice.

-> Unspecific recommendations, on the other hand, are in my experience a major challenge in knowledge translation and research communication. In any given study or review, recommendations are necessarily bound to the actual evidence. This often makes them very general, and does not allow to take political context, implementation considerations etc. sufficiently into account. Making research recommendations actionable often requires reflecting and enriching them with additional sources of "evidence", such as programme data, evaluations and direct interaction with policy-makers, implementers, and people with lived experience. In my view, this is the core supporting function of knowledge translation. And I would very much second the importance involving key stakeholders from the beginning of any research process.

"So perhaps the term 'effective communication' should focus more on getting the attention and consideration of policymakers (and their advisers) rather than what they choose to do with it?"

There usually is a wealth of information, opinions and factors influencing any decision-making process. We observed this during the COVID-19 pandemic, when a fast changing and sometimes contradictory body of evidence posed a real challenge to policy-makers and advisory bodies. And there is always the additional risk of decision-makers being unable to correctly interpret and translate findings. I would therefore argue that "getting attention and consideration of policymakers (and their advisers)" is not enough to define effective communication. And I would strongly advocate for a definition that also appeals to a researchers' responsibility to seriously consider and promote policy and practice implications and evidence translation of any piece of evidence.


I'll try to follow-up shortly with a few practical steps and communication tools I have seen work well in research communication for policy and practice change. Very much enjoy reading the practical examples shared on this forum.

Best regards,


HIFA profile: Samuel Sieber is a Knowledge Translation and Communication Specialist, Global Coordination Mechanism on NCDs, Global NCD Platform, Deputy Director General's Office, WHO, Geneva, Switzerland. He is a member of the HIFA working group on Communicating health research. siebers AT