Communicating health research (75) Q4. What are the needs and preferences of policymakers? (2)

25 September, 2022

Dear HIFA colleagues,

We are now entering our fourth and penultimate week of our deep-dive into effective research communication.

Our guiding question for this week is:

Q4. What are the needs and preferences of policymakers?

Are you, or have you been, in a decision-making role? We are interested to hear how you used evidence for Policymaking with a big P (national and subnational policy), or policymaking with a small p (eg programme managers and senior staff of health facilities). Please share your experience with us for the benefit of others:


There seems to be general agreement that researchers must have some understanding of the needs and preferences of the relevant policymakers if they hope to have an impact.

Several people have pointed to the need to engage policymakers before, during and after the actual research. They have also pointed to the importance of engaging with other stakeholders such as other academics, journalists, the public...

We have noted that policymakers may typically not have time to read a journal article or perhaps even a policy brief. And we have seen that there is little evidence for the effectiveness of any particular approach, although perhaps empowering policymakers to use evidence may be more effective than extending dissemination reach.

Here are some other points raised by HIFA members:

Richard Fitton (UK): UN: "We are not asking scientists to tell us what to do. We are asking scientists to show us the options"

Chikezie Nwankwor (Nigeria): [1] Communications: How to communicate effectively to policy makers - A guide for Academics [1]

Introduction: The difficulty of communicating complex knowledge to policy makers has generated a substantial literature. Ironically despite this wealth of literature the evidence on what works in communicating scientific findings is mixed[1] although there is a growing consensus that the starting point should always be your audience(s). This may seem obvious but understanding how policy makers process evidence and the context in which they operate is key [2]. Policy makers often have too much information to digest so will use heuristics to filter information and make decisions quickly. So ask yourself how can I help policy makers process what it is I want to say? What should my communication strategy be? What format should I communicate in and when should I communicate? Finding the right time to communicate can also effect whether you have a receptive audience or not...

Khin Thet Wai (Myanmar): Considerable understanding of the needs and concerns of policymakers from the outset should be in place by taking into account of the annual reports, keynote addresses, recent health regulations and acts, donor evaluation reports, meeting minutes etc.

Best wishes, Neil

Joint Coordinator, HIFA Communicating health research