Communicating health research (49) Q1. What do we mean by Effective communication of health research? (13)

19 September, 2022

Dear Sam and all,

Thank you for your 'five quick thoughts on what effective communication of health research to policymakers entails and how it can be measured (Q1)'.

As you say, these were intended as 'inputs for discussion and revision'.

To keep this message short, I'm just going to look at the first:

"1) Effective communication of health research implies a measurable change in policy or practice."

I think 'effective communication of health research' does not necessarily imply a measurable change in policy or practice. It depends on whose perspective one is talking about, and how one defines the term 'effective'.

From the perspective of a primary researcher, I suspect that many (not all) would want to see a change in policy or practice that had resulted from their research, at least in part. And if that change is shown to lead to improved health outcomes, so much the better.

But not all health research recommends a change in policy or practice, and often such recommendations are not specific. Some research may even recommend current policy to stay as it is.

So perhaps the term 'effective communication' should focus more on getting the attention and consideration of policymakers (and their advisers) rather than what they choose to do with it?

You continue: "When discussing communication strategies with researchers, policy makers, or programme implementers, I often find there is no common understanding of what exactly we are looking to achieve and with whom. Yet, a shared vision of change and tangible objectives are fundamental to any successful communication strategy, and should precede summarizing evidence, selecting dissemination tools, and crafting messages. Communication is as effective as the change it is trying to facilitate, and said change rarely unfolds in a linear way (see below)."

Here I am on the same page. The definition of 'effectiveness' depends on what the objectives are for the communication. And if there is no common understanding of objective, and a plan to achieve it, then communication is more likely to fail.

I would be very interested to hear any examples of a communication strategy for a piece of research. What were the objectives for the communication? What did you do? What were the results? Were any lessons learned that could be shared with others.

Best wishes, Neil

Joint Coordinator, HIFA Communicating health research

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health movement (Healthcare Information For All - ), a global community with more than 20,000 members in 180 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages in collaboration with WHO. HIFA brings stakeholders together to accelerate progress towards universal access to reliable healthcare information. HIFA is administered by Global Healthcare Information Network, a UK based non-profit in official relations with the World Health Organization. Twitter: @hifa_org