Concern has increasingly been expressed at the low level of impact that economic evaluations have on the priority setting decisions they are designed to inform. The concern to maximise the impact of economic evaluation in health care is reminiscent of research utilisation debates rehearsed in the various policy studies disciplines. This paper draws on selected themes and frameworks from this literature in order to explore issues and map out an agenda relating to the uptake and use of cost effectiveness analysis in health policy decisions. The authors consider the implications for health economics, and other policy-related research and evaluation, of adopting either a rational or interactive model of research utilisation. Economic evaluations can be normative or descriptive decision tools. The choice of approach will reflect the assumed model of research utilisation and has implications for overcoming barriers to impact on policy. There is an underlying conceptual link between the rational model of research utilisation, the normative approach to economic evaluation and a focus on barriers to the accessibility of published analyses. In contrast, acknowledgement of an interactive and incremental policy process predisposes the analyst to a more descriptive approach and suggests the importance of broader systems, process and ethical barriers to the use of economic evaluation. We address the crucial issue of the importance of establishing objectives and discuss how this issue effects how those seeking to influence policy should proceed. Finally, we discuss indirect or 'enlightenment' models of research utilisation and the implications of these for the community of health economists.