Background: Policy has a tremendous potential to improve population health when informed by research evidence. Such evidence, however, typically plays a suboptimal role in policymaking processes. The field of policy dissemination and implementation research (policy D&I) exists to address this challenge. The purpose of this study was to: (1) determine the extent to which policy D&I was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), (2) identify trends in NIH-funded policy D&I, and (3) describe characteristics of NIH-funded policy D&I projects.
Methods: The NIH Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tool was used to identify all projects funded through D&I-focused funding announcements. We screened for policy D&I projects by searching project title, abstract, and term fields for mentions of "policy," "policies," "law," "legal," "legislation," "ordinance," "statute," "regulation," "regulatory," "code," or "rule." A project was classified as policy D&I if it explicitly proposed to conduct research about the content of a policy, the process through which it was developed, or outcomes it produced. A coding guide was iteratively developed, and all projects were independently coded by two researchers. ClinicalTrials.gov and PubMed were used to obtain additional project information and validate coding decisions. Descriptive statistics--stratified by funding mechanism, Institute, and project characteristics--were produced.
Results: Between 2007 and 2014, 146 projects were funded through the D&I funding announcements, 12 (8.2 %) of which were policy D&I. Policy D&I funding totaled $16,177,250, equivalent to 10.5 % of all funding through the D&I funding announcements. The proportion of funding for policy D&I projects ranged from 14.6 % in 2007 to 8.0 % in 2012. Policy D&I projects were primarily focused on policy outcomes (66.7 %), implementation (41.7 %), state-level policies (41.7 %), and policies within the USA (83.3 %). Tobacco (33.3 %) and cancer (25.0 %) control were the primary topics of focus. Many projects combined survey (58.3 %) and interview (33.3 %) methods with analysis of archival data sources.
Conclusions: NIH has made an initial investment in policy D&I research, but the level of support has varied between Institutes. Policy D&I researchers have utilized a variety of designs, methods, and data sources to investigate the development processes, content, and outcomes of public and private policies.