Anyone who has been involved in the policy-making process will know that the doctrine of ‘evidence-based policy’ is very rarely adhered to.

However, there are encouraging signs that governments at both the national and state levels are working to increase the role of research in driving policy.

These include explicit directives to public servants to engage more with academia (such as in the document Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration) and the establishment of bodies such as the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute, which has a mandate to build links between research and policy in the primary health care sector.

The latest contribution from the Primary Health Care Research and Information Service reviews an article from the most recent Australian Health Review which discusses the current role of evidence in informing policy development and focusses on how researchers can improve the influence they have over governments and other policy-making bodies.  

Amanda Carne writes:

‘The best possible evidence informs health policy’…sounds simple enough… wouldn’t it be great to believe that this is true?  However, translation of evidence into policy is not a simple process, as Dwan and McInnes explain. 

Numerous factors influence policy development – expert opinion, political sensitivities, as well as organisational and financial constraints. While primary research and systematic reviews can inform and contribute to decision making, the process is an inherently social one and the priorities given to some elements rests well beyond the bounds of a researcher’s influence.

At both the national and state levels, health departments have been trying to improve the use of evidence in policy-making with establishment of knowledge-brokering positions at sites such as the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute (APHCRI), and the Sax Institute. Government directives also require public servants to establish or strengthen their partnerships with academia and research. This expressed desire for improvement in the research-policy interface is hampered by two factors: firstly, the apparent organisational cultural differences between knowledge producers and users, and second, the rapid cycling of individuals through various positions within health departments. 

Dwan and McInnes offer ‘knowledge exchange’ as one approach (or solution) to promoting evidence-informed decision making because of its empirical basis accepts the messy reality of policy development as it brings together the producers and the users of knowledge at the research-policy interface—describing knowledge exchange as “an iterative, two-way process that results in mutual learning”, in which people who produce research and people who use it benefit from speaking with each other.

Drawing on the literature, the authors then suggest ways to increase the impact of research: package one’s research for easy policy consumption; and ensure your subject matter is compelling and framed in terms of current or future policy issues. Being proactive and building productive relationships will, in turn, aid clear conceptualised goals, and sound performance measures, with a strong theoretical basis for improving the research-policy interface into the future.

• Amanda Carne, is Research Associate, PHC RIS

K. M. Dwan and P. C. McInnes. Increasing the influence of one’s research on policy. Australian Health Review, 2013, 37(2), 194-198

This article featured in the 2nd May 2013 edition of PHC RIS eBulletin, available at http://www.phcris.org.au/publications/ebulletin/index.php.

The eBulletin is designed to inform readers of recently published articles and reports, news items, media releases, upcoming conferences and courses, research grants, scholarships and fellowships, PHC RIS products and services and relevant websites in the primary health care field. Those interested in receiving the weekly eBulletin are invited to subscribe to the free service at http://www.phcris.org.au/mailinglists/index.php.

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Previous PHCRIS columns at Croakey

Some advice for researchers and services wanting to improve Aboriginal health 

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