Communicating health research (81) Q2. What are the different approaches? (20) Five steps for research-to-policy/practice strategies

26 September, 2022

Hi everyone

As another contribution to this lively discussion on communicating health research and picking up on some of the ideas already shared in this forum, here are five steps on how I usually approach research-to-policy/practice strategies. All of these I have seen work well in the past, if not necessarily at the same time and for all types of research and evidence.

1. Know who to talk to: Conduct a basic stakeholder mapping/listing based on your findings. I usually find it best to avoid complex mapping techniques, power matrix or support vs. opposition charts (they are often unnecessarily complicated). Simply ask “who needs to know” about your research findings and list names, contact details etc.

-> TDR’s SORT IT/Knowledge Management module has a great template for this (maybe not yet publicly available).

2. Get consent on desired change: Connect 2-3 stakeholders, decision-makers, or implementers to outcomes you would like to see based on the evidence. Define what change you are recommending - and get consent from co-authors, partneers, etc. (that way, you create a shared vision of change and widen the perspective). Consider breaking up the change into incremental steps (for instance, what would you expect, like, love to see in a short-, mid-, or long-term perspective) - and remain stakkeholder-oriented (who needs to do what). This is essentially a theory of change exercise, but it can be done in a quick and light format. (This is ideally done at the design stage of a study/review already, but can still be put together after publication, too).

- > I found outcome mapping works great, ODI’s Roma guide has some great tools, see:

3. Craft your message: Translate your findings and recommendations into an actionable message targeted at your main stakeholders. This can be done in multiple formats: a full-fledged policy brief, a two-page an evidence-brief format, or a simple presentation. At the very least, the format should include a) some background and context, b) why/how findings matter, c) a factual account of key findings, and d) actionable, stakeholder-related recommendations (who should do what).

-> There are multiple evidence/policy brief templates available across the internet: This SUPPORT Tool article [ ] discusses some strategic considerations, and the EVIPNet guiding manual [ ] offers fairly detailed guide for comprehensive policy brief development.

-> Notably, I often found that this to be the time to bring in additional evidence from other studies, programme data, evaluations etc., as a single piece of evidence may only provide limited ground to recommend practical action.

4. Choose your main channels: Decide how to best reach key stakeholders. I often found that merely sharing the study or sending an anonymous evidence brief is the worst option! Is there someone in your network that can connect you directly to a decision-maker (or, even better, have they been involved in a study from the beginning)? Can you present your findings in the actual study setting (to practitioners, in the community?). Are there organisations/partners that may be able to leverage your findings from their work? What do stakeholders care for the most (see 1)?

-> Going back to the stakeholder list often already defines a basic communication strategy, which can be revised and updated regularly.

5. Consider amplifying your message on additional channels: It’s usually only at this point I would consider investing in developing additional formats such as traditional print, audiovisual, or social media (podcasts, video clips, social media etc.) - for two reasonss. For one, there is a risk of getting lost in content strategies and production processes, good audiovisual and social media content takes time to produce. The other reason is that many of these formats require to be very short, visual and (at times) dramatic, posing a challenge to translate factual evidence into suitable messages. Ideally, this wider communications strategy supports the more targeted research communication to strategic decision-makers.

-> This is where collaboration between researchers, knowledge translators and communication professionals (journalists etc.) is both the most challenging and the most promising. (And that is not to say that researchers who are active on social media should not feel encouraged to post their findings!)

I found these steps to work across many types of evidence (e.g., primary and secondary research), but also realized when writing this that there are differences. Apologies in advance, therefore, if this remains still somewhat abstract or academic (as Massimo rightly pointed out). I too will try and think of some more tangible case studies.

Best regards and happy Monday,


Samuel Sieber PhD

Knowledge Translation and Engagement Specialist

Global Coordination Mechanism on NCDs

Global NCD Platform, Deputy Director General's Office

Geneva, Switzerland


Follow WHO on Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | Instagram

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