Communicating health research (61) Q1. What do we mean by Effective communication of health research? (15)

21 September, 2022

Dear Sam and all,

"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."

Yes, absolutely I agree 'change' or 'no change' are important to communicate. My point was in response to your original statement that 'Effective communication of health research implies a measurable change in policy or practice'. I wanted to point out that effective research communnication can and does take place without a change in policy or practice.

It is arguably more appropriate to say something like 'Effective communication of health research implies that the key messages of the research have been integrated in the development of policy and practice'. This integration can be indirect. Typically, a single primary research study will not result in a change in policy or practice. Howeve, it can be said to be effectively communicated if, for example, it has been included in a research synthesis (eg systematic review).

"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."

Yes, I agree. In my day-to-day reading of global health research, I suspect that most of the recommendations I see are really quite non-specific. This is fine if it accurately reflects the actual research (it makes no sense to make recommendations specific for the sake of it, without the evidence for that specificity). The research then becomes one part of a jigsaw of pieces of evidence that, ideally, are interpreted for specific countries or contexts. It would be interesting to hear more from HIFA members about the challenges of global and local synthesis.

"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."

Yes, again it would be good to hear from HIFA members about their experience with this.

"I would therefore argue that "getting attention and consideration of policymakers (and their advisers)" is not enough to define effective communication."

I look forward to hear more on this. I think research communication is indeed more about the sharing of knowledge than persuading policymakers to make a particular decision. Researchers can undertake the latter, but I would call it advocacy.

"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."

Yes indeed. As we started out the planning of this discussion we considered the researcher's perspective, the policymaker's perspective and the public health (and civil society) perspective. We acknowledged there is sometimes a tension, even a contradiction, between these perspectives. If a researcher is primarily motivate by getting *their* recommendations into policy and practice, this can lead to bias and negative health outcomes. I am reminded of the 'effective communication' of Andrew Wakefield and the MMR vaccine.

"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."

Brilliant, thanks Sam.

Best wishes, Neil

Joint Coordinator, HIFA Communicating health research

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health movement (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. HIFA brings stakeholders together to accelerate progress towards universal access to reliable healthcare information. HIFA is administered by Global Healthcare Information Network, a UK based non-profit in official relations with the World Health Organization. Twitter: @hifa_org