Communicating health research (29) Q2. What are the different approaches to communicating research? (5) Engaging policymakers in knowledge synthesis

12 September, 2022

Previous research has shown that engagement of policymakers in the research process increases the policy-relevance of research questions and promotes uptake and implementation. This 2018 paper looks at engagement in secondary research (knowledge synthesis).

Although the paper does not make the point, I would propose that engagement of policymakers in secondary research is evenmore important than engagement in primary research. This is because secondary research, when done rigorously, uniquely promotes evidence-informed policymaking and is therefore more likely than primary research to have robust conclusions for implementationin policy and practice.

As we have discussed previosly on HIFA, it is also critical that policymakers and their advisers understand what evidence-informed policymaking actually means, ie that it is based on all available evidence (rather than the results of a single study). Furthermore, interpretation is complicated by the fact that much secondary research is overrepresented by research in high-income countries rather than LMICs. Therefore, LMICs have the added burden of synthesising global and local research, an important topic that is not addressed in the study below.

I look forward to your comments.

CITATION: Engaging policy-makers, health system managers, and policy analysts in the knowledge synthesis process: a scoping review

Andrea C. Tricco et al.

Implementation Science volume 13, Article number: 31 (2018)


Background: It is unclear how to engage a wide range of knowledge users in research. We aimed to map the evidence on engaging knowledge users with an emphasis on policy-makers, health system managers, and policy analysts in the knowledge synthesis process through a scoping review.

Methods: We used the Joanna Briggs Institute guidance for scoping reviews. Nine electronic databases (e.g., MEDLINE), two grey literature sources (e.g., OpenSIGLE), and reference lists of relevant systematic reviews were searched from 1996 to August 2016. We included any type of study describing strategies, barriers and facilitators, or assessing the impact of engaging policy-makers, health system managers, and policy analysts in the knowledge synthesis process. Screening and data abstraction were conducted by two reviewers independently with a third reviewer resolving discrepancies. Frequency and thematic analyses were conducted.

Results: After screening 8395 titles and abstracts followed by 394 full-texts, 84 unique documents and 7 companion reports fulfilled our eligibility criteria. All 84 documents were published in the last 10 years, and half were prepared in North America. The most common type of knowledge synthesis with knowledge user engagement was a systematic review (36%). The knowledge synthesis most commonly addressed an issue at the level of national healthcare system (48%) and focused on health services delivery (17%) in high-income countries (86%).

Policy-makers were the most common (64%) knowledge users, followed by healthcare professionals (49%) and government agencies as well as patients and caregivers (34%). Knowledge users were engaged in conceptualization and design (49%), literature search and data collection (52%), data synthesis and interpretation (71%), and knowledge dissemination and application (44%). Knowledge users were most commonly engaged as key informants through meetings and workshops as well as surveys, focus groups, and interviews either in-person or by telephone and emails. Knowledge user content expertise/awareness was a common facilitator (18%), while lack of time or opportunity to participate was a common barrier (12%).

Conclusions: Knowledge users were most commonly engaged during the data synthesis and interpretation phases of the knowledge synthesis conduct. Researchers should document and evaluate knowledge user engagement in knowledge synthesis.


'An estimated 85% of investment in health and biomedical research is wasted every year due to redundancies, failure to establish priorities based on needs of stakeholders (particularly end-users of knowledge), poorly designed research methods, and incomplete reporting of study results, leading to billions of dollars lost globally'

'There are numerous perceived benefits to engaging policy-makers, policy analysts, and health system managers in knowledge synthesis. Examples include more comprehensive literature searches, improved rigor of knowledge synthesis findings, greater clarity of results [59] as well as greater relevance, uptake, and usefulness of results. However, the results of our scoping review suggest that very little research has been conducted in this area.'

Best wishes, Neil

Joint Coordinator, HIFA Communicating health research

Neil Pakenham-Walsh, Global Coordinator HIFA,

Working in official relations with WHO