Introduction: Little attention has been given to how researchers can best provide evidence to policy makers so that it informs policy making. The objectives of this study were to increase understanding about the current state of public health nutrition and obesity researcher practices, beliefs, barriers, and facilitators to communicating and engaging with policy makers, and to identify best practices and suggest improvements.
Methods: Eighteen semistructured interviews were conducted from 2011 to 2013 with public health nutrition and obesity researchers who were highly involved in communicating research to policy makers. Interviews were transcribed verbatim, coded, and analyzed to identify common themes.
Results: Study participants described wide variation in practices for communicating and engaging with policy makers and had mixed beliefs about whether and when researchers should engage. Besides a lack of formal policy communication training, barriers noted were promotion and tenure processes and a professional culture that does not value communicating and engaging with policy makers. Study participants cited facilitators to engaging with policy makers as ranging from the individual level (eg, desire to make a difference, relationships with collaborators) to the institutional level (eg, training/mentorship support, institutional recognition). Other facilitators identified were research- and funding-driven. Promising strategies suggested to improve policy engagement were more formal training, better use of intermediaries, and learning how to cultivate relationships with policy makers.
Conclusion: Study findings provide insights into the challenges that will need to be overcome and the strategies that might be tried to improve communication and engagement between public health researchers and policy makers.