Health Policy and Planning: Linking Knowledge With Action When Engagement is Out of Reach

23 August, 2021

This interesting paper notes that in the 'real world' there may not be opportunities for policymakers to engage face-to-face with health workers and researchers, particulary during COVID. In such a situation in Honduras, these authors 'find that messages from a technocratic sender based on statistical evidence improved perceptions of salience, credibility and legitimacy'. Citation, abstract and a comment from me below.

CITATION: Linking Knowledge With Action When Engagement is Out of Reach: Three Contextual Features of Effective Public Health Communication

Roger Emmelhainz, Alan Zarychta, Tara Grillos, Krister Andersson

Health Policy and Planning, https://doi.org/10.1093/heapol/czab105

Published: 19 August 2021

ABSTRACT

Scholars and practitioners often promote direct engagement between policymakers, health workers, and researchers as a strategy for overcoming barriers to utilizing scientific knowledge in health policy. However, in many settings public health officials rarely have opportunities to interact with researchers, which is a problem further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. One prominent theory argues that policy actors will trust and utilize research findings when they perceive them to be salient, credible, and legitimate. We draw on this theory to examine the conditions facilitating greater uptake of new knowledge among health officials when engagement is out of reach and they are instead exposed to new ideas through written mass communication. Using data from a survey experiment with about 260 health workers and administrators in Honduras, we find that messages from a technocratic sender based on statistical evidence improved perceptions of salience, credibility and legitimacy. Additionally, perceptions of salience, credibility, and legitimacy are three contextual features that operate as joint mediators between knowledge and action, and several individual characteristics also influence whether officials trust research findings enough to apply them when formulating and implementing health policies. This research can help inform the design of context-sensitive knowledge translation and exchange strategies to advance the goals of evidence-based public health, particularly in settings where direct engagement is difficult to achieve.

COMMENT (NPW): Health policymaking is messy and often corrupted by perverted personal motivation, as we find with the widespread disdain by some heads of state for public health experts during COVID. Even where policymakers have ample opportunity to engage with researchers, they may choose not to. This paper addresses part of the problem. I feel it is vital to hold corrupt policymakers to account through clear and transparent communication of health evidence, revealing the gap between what the science says and what policymakers do. As Greta Thunberg says about climate change, Don't listen to me, listen to the science! The same approach is needed in public health.

Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator, neil@hifa.org www.hifa.org

Coordinator, HIFA Project on Evidence-Informed Policy and Practice

http://www.hifa.org/projects/evidence-informed-policy-and-practice