A systematic review of frameworks for the interrelationships of mental health evidence and policy in low- and middle-income countries

Health Res Policy Syst. 2018 Aug 22;16(1):85. doi: 10.1186/s12961-018-0357-2.


Background: The interrelationships between research evidence and policy-making are complex. Different theoretical frameworks exist to explain general evidence-policy interactions. One largely unexplored element of these interrelationships is how evidence interrelates with, and influences, policy/political agenda-setting. This review aims to identify the elements and processes of theories, frameworks and models on interrelationships of research evidence and health policy-making, with a focus on actionability and agenda-setting in the context of mental health in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Methods: A systematic review of theories was conducted based on the BeHeMOTh search method, using a tested and refined search strategy. Nine electronic databases and other relevant sources were searched for peer-reviewed and grey literature. Two reviewers screened the abstracts, reviewed full-text articles, extracted data and performed quality assessments. Analysis was based on a thematic analysis. The included papers had to present an actionable theoretical framework/model on evidence and policy interrelationships, such as knowledge translation or evidence-based policy, specifically target the agenda-setting process, focus on mental health, be from LMICs and published in English.

Results: From 236 publications included in the full text analysis, no studies fully complied with our inclusion criteria. Widening the focus by leaving out 'agenda-setting', we included ten studies, four of which had unique conceptual frameworks focusing on mental health and LMICs but not agenda-setting. The four analysed frameworks confirmed research gaps from LMICs and mental health, and a lack of focus on agenda-setting. Frameworks and models from other health and policy areas provide interesting conceptual approaches and lessons with regards to agenda-setting.

Conclusion: Our systematic review identified frameworks on evidence and policy interrelations that differ in their elements and processes. No framework fulfilled all inclusion criteria. Four actionable frameworks are applicable to mental health and LMICs, but none specifically target agenda-setting. We have identified agenda-setting as a research theory gap in the context of mental health knowledge translation in LMICs. Frameworks from other health/policy areas could offer lessons on agenda-setting and new approaches for creating policy impact for mental health and to tackle the translational gap in LMICs.

Keywords: Evidence-based policy; Evidence-informed policy-making; Knowledge translation; Low- and middle-income countries; Mental health; Policy impact; Research evidence; Research impact; Theory review.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Developing Countries*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine*
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Income
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Mental Health Services
  • Mental Health*
  • Policy Making
  • Poverty
  • Translational Research, Biomedical*