Communicating health research (32) Responses to Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4, and Q5

13 September, 2022

Hello Moderator,

I am hopeful that this will find you well. Please receive [below] a copy of my input on the discussion of effective health communication.



HIFA profile: David R. Walugembe (PhD) is a graduate of Health Information Science from the University of Western Ontario and currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of British Columbia, Canada. Professional interests: Implementation science; Health policy implementation; Knowledge translation and research utilization; Maternal and child health; Sustainability; Stakeholder engagement. dwalugembe AT

1. What do we mean by Effective communication of health research to policymakers? How do we measure it?

Effective communication of health research to policy makers – would mean when policy makers (intended recipient) of the intended messages get/ access them, give feedback (expected and unexpected- critical) or take appropriate actions on such messages. This is informed by the assumption that communication is only complete when the intended recipients decode the encoded messages. Therefore, when policy makers receive communication from researchers and provide feedback, request for more information/facts/evidence, enact policies or implement programs and or interventions, informed by the content of the research communication, then that may constitute effective communication of health research. However, there are still exist gaps in how to measure effective communication of health research. This is partly due to differences in interpretation of what constitutes effective communication of health research. Maybe applying frameworks that provide a priori indicators of effectiveness could enhance efforts in this direction.

2. What are the different approaches to communicating research (eg academic journals, policy briefs, interaction with policymakers, press releases, social media, infographics, use of video)? What is your experience with these approaches? What works and what doesn't?

As rightly discussed, there are several approaches to communicating research including academic journals, policy briefs, interactions with policy makers, press releases, social media, infographics, and use of videos among others. To this list we can add book chapters, blogs, newspaper articles, websites, factsheets, drama skits, music pieces (edutainment), policy dialogues, townhall meetings, television and radio talk shows, conferences, workshops and meetings among others. I have had the unique opportunity of using several of these approaches while supporting eight health systems- related research coalitions in sub-Saharan Africa to engage their diverse stakeholders in knowledge translation. A brief comment about these approaches is that none works successfully independent of others! One needs a combination of these approaches to communicate effectively. They are also context specific- the success of some approaches varies from one context to the other. Additionally, the characteristics of the intended recipients of the health research communication (policy makers) including their capacity to read, interpret and assess/evaluate research communication, their power, influence and interest in relation to the research communication may all affect the approaches used to communicate. Additionally, the quality of the research communication (findings), their timing, public sentiments about the subject matter they relate to, may also influence which approaches may be successful in communicating research findings. For example, communicating research findings that may contradict government policies and programs via mass media during an election season may be interpreted as opposition to the government in power and may attract sanctions from policy makers while similar efforts may be welcomed as constructive input once the policy makers have successfully assumed their elective positions! Likewise, findings that address issues of concern to certain populations may be effectively communicated by mobilizing and engaging such communities pragmatically through activities or platforms that they are familiar and resonate with. For example, edutainment strategies such as sports, music, dance and drama may be effective ways in communicating key health messages to policy makers dealing with youths and communities that may not be able to read and write but can interpret and or use such messages.

3. What is the role of researchers in research communication, beyond publication of their paper? What is the role of other stakeholders (eg communication professionals, editors, media, public health professionals and critical thinkers)

Researchers in research communication may be equated to strategic planners or project managers. Basically, they play the role of conceiving the idea/project, thinking through its aims and objectives, target audiences, methods and approaches to conduct the research and to communicate the messages/research findings. Courtesy of this strategic role, researchers play the role of identifying which additional stakeholders and skills they need on the team to help them accomplish the aims and objectives of communicating their research findings. As strategic planners/project managers, researchers have a role to network and engage the identified stakeholders to bridge the identified gaps and provide sufficient clear guidance on what they would wish other stakeholders to support them with. It would also be critical for researchers to evaluate the effectiveness and impact of their research communication efforts beyond the metrics of citations, likes, and maybe academic promotions! How researchers evaluate the effectiveness and impact of their research communication efforts still remains a challenge that may require further research.

Other stakeholders guided by the strategic planner/project manager (researcher) may and should fill the identified gaps using their expertise, experience and skills. For example, communication professionals may come on board to help the researchers to package complex/ scientific/ discipline specific research findings in more accessible/non-technical and jargon-free language. They may and should help researchers in identifying the most appropriate formats and medium through which to communicate the research findings as well as render advice on how to segment various audiences. Editors may on the other hand help in ensuring that the content of the research communication is error-free, meets the standards of the medium through which it is being communicated including television, radio, journal, newspaper and books among others. The role of the media would be to promote the research findings and encourage public engagement with such findings. They should however go beyond and collect feedback on public perception of such findings as well as work with researchers to assess the effect and impact of their content! In addition to using the content/findings to advance practice and improve knowledge, public health researchers and critical thinkers may help in providing constructive criticisms and or conducting further research to address the identified challenges and gaps.

4. What are the needs and preferences of policymakers?

The needs and preferences of policymakers may vary from one context to another and are dependent on several factors. These may include their capacity, power, influence, interest, resources, ideas and institutions. Policymakers with all these variables at their disposal may need and prefer advice/evidence that can empower them to do better and deliver on their mandates. However, those that operate in constrained systems may not be receptive to ideas/evidence that puts more strain on their resources, challenges their approaches or threatens their survival in power. Additionally, policy makers in systems with empowered electorate and democratic systems that encourage accountability, would need feedback from the electorate on how best they can deliver services while those operating in alternative systems may not create empowering ambiances for such input.

5. What can be done to better support researchers in the communication of health research?

Researchers in communication of health research may be helped by bringing to their awareness the various “strategic planner/project manager” roles that they need to play beyond generating journal articles/scientific publications. As strategic planners and or project managers, they have various roles to play to enhance the utility and uptake of their research findings by their target audiences who in most cases are policy makers! They also need to be supported to appreciate the contextual realities and dynamics across various contexts and how these affect their efforts. Most importantly, researchers in communication of health research need support in cultivating meaningful partnerships with other stakeholders to enhance uptake and utility of their research findings.