In an era of 24-hour media, ubiquitous information availability and “fake news,” the need for access to credible knowledge to inform research, policy and practice has never been greater. However, there are few opportunities for academics to reflect on what has been learned about the research-policy-nexus and how the ultimate goal of research – to positively impact the world – can best be realised. In October 2018, Wiley Publishing provided one such opportunity - a Breakfast Roundtable, “Research Impact in Policy” in conjunction with the 2018 Global Evidence and Implementation Summit (GEIS) in Melbourne, Australia.

This free collection speaks to some key themes that arose from the discussion – in particular policymaker-research relations and evidence-based practice.

One starting point to examine the extent to which policymakers do (or do not) engage with research is to challenge assumptions that researchers and policymakers may have about each other. Consider even the seemingly simple title of the roundtable – ‘research impact in policy.’ One definition of ‘research’ is “original investigation undertaken to gain knowledge, understanding and insight.” For an academic, this is bound up in protocols, ethics and other processes central to universities. Policymakers generate new insights every time they examine their own data, but tend to conceptualise this as ‘data insights’, and ‘research’ as work they commission to academics. Where does ‘data insights’ meet ‘research’? Or are they the same thing? Similarly, what is ‘impact’? Policymakers are driven to solve real-world problems for their constituents; yet academic performance is measured (in part) by impact factor – publication in top journals and citations by peers. There are no definitive answers to these questions of simple terminology – but there is value to be had in the discussion.

Challenging assumptions about the context in which research questions arise is also instructive in framing research responses. Policymakers are often reactionary to either a real or perceived crisis or to the whim of governments who want fast action. In this sense the policy ‘cycle’ isn’t how it’s often mapped in books. Whilst a planned, strategic approach to policy development and implementation is preferred, in reality policymakers are often expected to deliver outcomes under extreme time pressure. Researchers need to be able to respond to these realities and their potential influence on research budgets, timelines and deliverables. Equally, policymakers need to appreciate what sort of academic research can be delivered within specific circumstances and timelines. For example, a systematic review of primary studies can deliver detailed information about the effectiveness of an intervention. A rapid review of existing systematic reviews in the same topic area takes less time, but delivers conclusions at a ‘headline’ level, with less detail of specific interventions. These trade-offs need to be made explicit both at the onset of research and at the point where findings are made available.

The second collection of papers centres on ‘evidence-based practice’. Sackett and colleagues in 1996 defined ‘evidence-based medicine’ as the intersection between best available research, individual clinical expertise and patient choice - a definition easily translated to policy settings. He argued that evidence-based medicine is often misconstrued as “cookbook” medicine, based solely on best available research, and reinforced the importance of clinician and patient inputs. Similarly, it is important to recognise that although evidence is critical to optimising policy impact, it is only one of many inputs into public policy. The second collection of papers reinforces this concept by examining the many facets of successful evidence-based practice. This is followed by a series of case studies in the final section of the paper collection which describe how the flow of evidence into policy and practice plays out, and the many other influences that impact this journey.

Researchers that work closely with government and other organisations are continually learning from their experience of the complex interface between research, policy and practice. There is no doubt that building policymaker-researcher relations through mutually respectful exchange at the onset of research can create considerable efficiencies for all parties. This also generates critical buy-in to the research, which is often necessary in prosecuting the case for evidence-informed implementation.

Another way to conceptualise successful researcher-policymaker relationships, rather than engagement on a project-by-project basis, is as long-term partnerships within which research arises. In addition to delivering research, such partnerships offer the opportunity of building capacity to understand research within policy and other institutions – for example through presentations, education sessions and day-to-day interaction. Being present as a ‘trusted friend’ when crises occur or when new policy directives from politicians come in optimises the chances of being able to meaningfully assist in the creation of evidence-based policy. A long-term relationship also brings a greater likelihood of being able to anticipate upcoming challenges before they arise.
Sackett, D. L., W. M. Rosenberg, J. A. Gray, R. B. Haynes and W. S. Richardson (1996). "Evidence based medicine: what it is and what it isn't." Bmj 312(7023): 71-72

Researcher-policymaker engagement requires a considerable investment of time and energy. In interdisciplinary research this is referred to as “transaction costs”. Such costs are increasingly being made overtly transparent in funding bids. Attaching a value to this activity is a worthy goal, given the critical role of these interactions in successful KT.

This collection of papers challenges the notion of a simple ‘pipeline’ of evidence into policy and practice. In doing so, and given the complexity of the challenges faced by policymakers around the globe, it reinforces the value of meaningful investment in building productive and respectful relationships between researchers and policymakers.

Associate Professor Peter Bragge, Director of Health Programs, BehaviourWorks Australia, Monash Sustainable Development Institute.
Associate Professor Liam Smith, Director, BehaviourWorks Australia, Monash Sustainable Development Institute.
Find out more about BehaviourWorks here:

Do Policy Makers Use Academic Research? Reexamining the “Two Communities” Theory of Research Utilization
Joshua Newman, Adrian Cherney, Brian W. Head
Journal: Public Administration Review

Commentary: Could Academic Research Be More Policy Influential?
Gary Banks
Journal: Public Administration Review

Effective Practitioner–Scholar Relationships: Lessons from a Coproduction Partnership
Fiona Buick, Deborah Blackman, Janine O'Flynn, Michael O'Donnell, Damien West
Journal: Public Administration Review

Building informal knowledge-sharing relationships between policy makers and academics: Insights from a PM&C enagement project
Journal: Australian Journal of Public Administration

Social Science Research and Public Policy: Narrowing the Divide
Meredith Edwards
Journal: Australian Journal of Public Administration

Feminising Politics to Close the Evidence-Policy Gap: The Case of Social Policy in Scotland
Paul Cairney, Kirsten Rummery
Journal: Australian Journal of Public Administration

Relationships between Policy Academics and Public Servants: Learning at a Distance?
Brian W. Head
Journal: Australian Journal of Public Administration

Dialogue Between Past and Present: Policy Evaluation and History
Diana Perche
Journal: Australian Journal of Politics & History

Public policy's bibliography: The use of research in US regulatory impact analyses
Bruce A. Desmarais, John A. Hird
Journal: Regulation & Governance

The Future of the Public Policy School
Helmut Anheier
Journal: Global Policy

Knowledge Transferand Exchange: Review and Synthesis of the Literature
Journal: Milbank Quarterly

Evidence Based Policy: Principles of Transparency and Accountability
George Argyrous
Journal: Australian Journal of Public Administration

Governance for Effective Policy‐Relevant Scientific Research: The Shared Governance Model
Mark Burgman
Journal: Asia & The Pacific Policy Studies

Implementing clinical guidelines: Current evidence and future implications
Jeremy Grimshaw
Journal: Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions banner 

Not Enough Time or a Low Priority? Barriers to Evidence‐Based Practice for Allied Health Clinicians
Katherine Harding, Judi Porter, Anne Horne-Thompson, Euan Donley, Nicholas Taylor
Journal: Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions

The struggle of translating science into action: Foundational concepts of implementation science
Frances Rapport, Robyn Clay-Williams, Kate Churruca, Patti Shih, Anne Hogden and Jeffery Braithwaite
Journal: Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice

Global Governance in Practice
Vincent Pouliot Jean‐Philippe Thérien
Journal: Global Policy

Implementing Clinical Practice Guidelines in occupationaltherapy practice: Recommendations from the research evidence
Mary Stergiou‐Kita
Journal: Australian Occupational Therapy Journal

Linking Migration Intentions with Flows: Evidence and Potential Use
Jasper Tjaden, Daniel Auer, Frank Laczko
Journal: International Migration

How Unpopular Policies are Made: Examples from South Africa, Singapore and Bangladesh
Ingrid Palmary, Thea de Gruchy, ASM Ali Ashraf. Chiu Yee Koh, Kellynn Wee, Charmain Goh, Brenda S.A. Yeoh
Journal: International Migration

State Immigration Policies: The Role of State Compacts and Interest Groups on Immigration Legislation
Erin Trouth Hofmann, Paul Jacobs, Peggy Petrzelka
Journal: International Migration

The continental divide? Economic exposure to Brexit in regions and countries on both sides of The Channel
MWen Chen, Bart Los, Phillip McCann, Raquel Ortega-Argiles, Mark Thissen, Frank van Oort
Journal: Papers in Regional Science

Beyond the Paris Agreement: Climate change policy negotiations and future directions
S. Niggol Seo
Journal: Regional Science Policy & Practice

Fabrizio Barca, Phillip McCann, Andres Rodriguez-Pose
Journal: Journal of Regional Science

Regional Innovation Patterns and the EU Regional Policy Reform: Toward Smart Innovation Policies
Roberto Camagni, Roberta Capello
Journal: Growth and Change

Policy analysis, policy practice and political science
H. K. Colebatch
Journal: Australian Journal of Public Administration

Gaps between knowing and doing: Understanding and assessingthe barriers to optimal health care
Lorna J. Cochrane, Curtis A. Olson, Suzanne Murray, MartinDupuis, Tricia Tooman and Sean Hayes
Journal: Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions

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