Communicating health research (63) Getting research findings into policy and practice

22 September, 2022

One perspective on 'effective research communication' is that it has an impact on policy and practice.

A related but different perspective is that effective research communication simply contributes to the collective evidence that may be used to inform policy and practice - it does not need to have a direct impact.

With respect to direct impact of single primary research studies, can anyone give examples where this has been realised? I suspect it is most common when the research is looking at specific implementation issues at the local level? This may impact especially on policy decisions with a 'little p' (eg programmes and projects) but perhaps there are also examples of impact on Policies with a 'big P' (national and subnational policy).

Where single studies impact on policy, what are the key communication approaches that have been successful? Policy briefs, face-to-face meetings, media?

Perhaps more often policy is not driven by a single primary study, but by synthesis of all available evidence (eg systematic review).

Even then, such synthesis may be based on research in contexts that are very different to the national context. Recommendations may, as Sam Sieber says, be 'very general, and do not allow to take political context, implementation considerations etc. sufficiently into account'. National/local analysis and further research may be required to contextualise the recommendations.

Another point is that we have tended to talk of research communication as a linear process from the researcher to the policymaker. And yet the comments in this discussion clearly show that it is a lot more complex than this. Another perspective is to start from the policymaker, who in reality will be seeking multiple inputs, only some of which are directly research-related. Seldom is there a simple researcher-to-policymaker dynamic.

Perhaps the term 'effective communication' could apply less to the push of a single research study, and more to the factors that encourage and enable policymakers to consider all the relevant evidence? This implies more collaboration and less competition, more focus on improving health outomes and less on getting the next funding award.

I look forward to your comments.

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.

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