Communicating health research (15) Q4. What are the needs and preferences of policymakers? (1) What can we learn from the COVID-19 pandemic?

5 September, 2022

Dear Neil

Is there anything that we can learn from COVID-19 response? The response was generally led by politicians (non-scientists in general) at national level with support from scientists in the form of advisory committees. Did the politicians do a good job in communicating the messages to the public? Did the scientists do a good job in communicating evidence to the political leaders? Were there some good communication practices that we could borrow a leaf from? COVID-19 makes a perfect example because it set a scenario where there was hunger for evidence to support policy decisions almost daily.

COVID-19 pandemic, particularly between March 2020 and March 2021 is a perfect example of a scenario in which policy makers and decision makers expressed hunger and readiness to receive research evidence to inform their course of action. Consequently, the channels of communication between researchers (scientists) and policy makers were established and open 24-7 for evidence to stream in and get used as quickly as possible. We often heard politicians, say, ‘we are following science for every decision taken’. There was a direct line of communication between scientists (national scientific advisory committees) and policy makers and often media played the 3rd partly role of informing the public of decisions taken. The advisory committees served as research evidence translators before passing it on to policy makers for action. One take home from this is that readiness to receive information by the recipient (policy maker) from the communicator (researcher) is a critical for effective communication. COVID-19 was a unique situation, a public health emergency of a disease with little known about and inevitably instilled fear in everyone including policy makers, and perhaps that’s why we saw the hunger for evidence. How then do researchers maintain such a direct channel of communication in non-emergency periods? Will it be the art of communicating the information from their research? Will it be identifying and placing information in spaces where policy makers are more likely to interact with it? Will it be communicating in the first instance why their research is worth the policymaker’s attention in order to get their attention? It seems humans are more likely to pay attention to a message if they believe there is something valuable to them. By answering these questions, we may produce one of the effective ways to communicate health research to policy- and decision- makers.

Best regards


Dr Wilber Sabiiti

Principal Research fellow in Medicine

Division of Infection and Global Health

School of Medicine

University of St Andrews

North Haugh

St Andrews KY16 9TF

Medicine and Biological Sciences Building Level 2 Rm 214

Tel +44 (0) 1334 461736

Twitter: @SabiitiwWilber, @Infection_StAnd, @SStaahr

HIFA profile: Wilber Sabiiti is Principal Research fellow in Medicine at the Division of Infection and Global Health, School of Medicine, University of St Andrews, Scotland.