The year 2017 has ushered in a political climate in the United States where questions about the relevance of scientific research within a highly politicized policy environment loom large. Commentators have suggested that research is in danger of being relegated as less important to the policy-making process, which is particularly concerning after several years of apparent progress in promoting the translation of evidence into policy making. There are barriers researchers face in communicating their research evidence (ie, lack of training, capacity, time, etc) and the barriers policy makers’ face in using it (ie, constituents’ demands, credibility concerns, lack of time, other political influences), relatively few studies have analyzed relational factors of both groups simultaneously.
This study conducted interviews with 215 US health services and health policy researchers and 40 state-level staffers and legislators. Data was collected from researchers and policy makers at the AcademyHealth’s Annual Research Meeting (ARM) and the National Conference of State Legislatures annual meeting.
This research provides a sobering view on the potential for researchers and policy makers to form relationships. Given the constraints and incentives both sides face, overcoming the distance between researchers and policy makers is extremely challenging, and simple approaches will not be sufficient. Multilevel approaches that expand the role and capacity of intermediaries might include the active support of research institutions, the development, implementation, and evaluation of strategic interventions, as well as more recognition and use of the range of policy actors from advocates to journalists. Relationship building across this greater set of actors is key to overcoming the persistent divides that have long plagued the research and policy communities. It is suggested future research in knowledge transfer in health policy should consider more sophisticated models of the policy process and multiple “communities” of study.
The production of health policy-relevant research is necessary, but not sufficient, to promote its utilization in policy. Our objective was to understand the perspectives of United States’ state-level policy makers and health researchers on the barriers and facilitators to the translation of health evidence into the policy process, with a particular focus on issues related to relationship building. We conducted interviews with 215 US health services and health policy researchers and 40 state-level staffers and legislators. Researchers and policy makers faced the same major barrier to research translation: lack of dedicated time to do so. Some policy makers questioned the credibility of research, and researchers questioned policy makers’ authentic desire to use evidence in decision making. For some study participants, a mutual mistrust of the other group challenges stronger relationship formation. Interventions are needed to help both groups understand a broader role that research plays in policy making and to increase personal contact, and ultimately trusted relationships, across various actors in the policy process.
Mutual Distrust: Perspectives From Researchers and Policy Makers on the Research to Policy Gap in 2013 and Recommendations for the Future
Sarah E. Gollust, PhD, Jane W. Seymour, MPH, Maximilian J. Pany, BA, Adeline Goss, MD, Zachary F. Meisel, MD, MPH, MSHP and David Grande, MD, MPA5
First Published April 28, 2017 Research Article
INQUIRY: The Journal of Health Care Organization, Provision, and Financing