Background: Better communication is often suggested as fundamental to increasing the use of research evidence in policy, but little is known about how researchers and policy makers work together or about barriers to exchange. This study explored the views and practice of policy makers and researchers regarding the use of evidence in policy, including: (i) current use of research to inform policy; (ii) dissemination of and access to research findings for policy; (iii) communication and exchange between researchers and policy makers; and (iv) incentives for increasing the use of research in policy.
Methods: Separate but similar interview schedules were developed for policy makers and researchers. Senior policy makers from NSW Health and senior researchers from public health and health service research groups in NSW were invited to participate. Consenting participants were interviewed by an independent research company.
Results: Thirty eight policy makers (79% response rate) and 41 researchers (82% response rate) completed interviews. Policy makers reported rarely using research to inform policy agendas or to evaluate the impact of policy; research was used more commonly to inform policy content. Most researchers reported that their research had informed local policy, mainly by increasing awareness of an issue. Policy makers reported difficulty in accessing useful research syntheses, and only a third of researchers reported developing targeted strategies to inform policy makers of their findings. Both policy makers and researchers wanted more exchange and saw this as important for increasing the use of research evidence in policy; however, both groups reported a high level of involvement by policy makers in research.
Conclusion: Policy makers and researchers recognise the potential of research to contribute to policy and are making significant attempts to integrate research into the policy process. These findings suggest four strategies to assist in increasing the use of research in policy: making research findings more accessible to policy makers; increasing opportunities for interaction between policy makers and researchers; addressing structural barriers such as research receptivity in policy agencies and a lack of incentives for academics to link with policy; and increasing the relevance of research to policy.