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Scientific evidence and policy

Article discussing how to inform policymakers
Picture of a woman holding a microphone in a podium
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One of the ways policymakers identify effective policies and interventions, and how best to implement them, is through scientific evidence. Yet those who produce scientific knowledge are often trained to communicate with fellow specialists and not with non-academic audiences. It is important for researchers and scientists engaged in policy-related work to develop the skills needed to effectively communicate the value of their research to policymakers.

Understanding the policy community

The policy process is complex, involving a range of actors within and outside government who play diverse roles in initiating, formulating, implementing, and evaluating policies. Communicators must identify the various stakeholders in the policy process and learn how to segment and analyse audiences that make up the policy community.

Clarifying the purposes of policy communication

The policy process involves a series of stages. Those who want to influence policy must first understand the policy cycle, the various purposes relating to each phase of the cycle, and the form of communication best suited to each purpose. This includes the different stages involved in the policy cycle, the process of policy communication (target, rationale, benefit, expected outcomes of communication, etc.), and how to identify the type of communication needed in the continuum of engagement (e.g. informing, consulting, collaborating, deciding, disseminating).

Understanding the communication needs of policy stakeholders

The uptake of research depends on several factors, including:

  • The four key characteristics that make information useful to policy:

1) To help to solve problems

2) To be actionable

3) To have consequences

4) To be publicly accessible

  • The need to identify relevant scientific evidence to address questions raised in the policy space.
  • How to adapt scientific evidence to suit policymakers.
  • How to strengthen links between policy actors and those who want to share scientific evidence.

Techniques and tools of engagement

There are tactics and tools available to effectively engage audiences, ranging from those suited to face-to-face interactions (e.g. public, and private meetings, forums, festivals, town hall meetings, policy durbars, consultative group meetings, workshops) to mediated forms of communication (traditional media, websites, social media, etc). Effective communication must consider which platforms and tools to use in communicating scientific evidence to policymakers and other stakeholders. It is important to have communication strategies and plans, engagement techniques (e.g. planning and facilitating public consultations and debates, soliciting media coverage, convening press conferences), and the knowledge and skills required to produce press releases and policy documents such as policy briefs, memoranda, and communique.

Familiar challenges in policy communication

Getting research into policy and practice (GRIPP) requires scientists to communicate evidence to policymakers in ways that can lead to decisions and action. Not only must research be relevant, but the language of engagement must be appropriate. It is important to discuss barriers to effective policy communication including language/translation, cultural barriers, audience scepticism and the importance of compelling storytelling to drive home the message.

Further reading

The importance of policy change for addressing public health problems

SUPPORT Tools for evidence-informed health Policymaking (STP) 3: Setting priorities for supporting evidence-informed policymaking

Evidence-informed health policy: are we beginning to get there at last?

© COG-Train
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