Translating Research into Public Policy

Researchers can team with advocates to be influential at four crucial steps in the policy development process, according to a commentary prepared by a long-time public health advocate for the 2008 Active Living Research Conference.

Researchers are often frustrated that their findings do not have more impact on public policy. But Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy (CCPHA), comments that many factors other than research influence the political policy-making process, and researchers and policy advocates often do not know how to work together to present their views and information effectively.

Goldstein writes that his nonprofit, nonpartisan research and advocacy organization effectively used research in advocacy on three major public health initiatives in California:  getting junk food out of schools; increasing funding for physical education; and requiring chain restaurants to provide calorie information on menus. From these experiences, he identifies four steps that researchers and policy advocates can take together to influence policy:

  1. Describe a problem locally, so that it has policy relevance and a local context in order to get the attention of local politicians and media. 
  2. Provide policy-makers with reasonable and implementable solutions to the problem, so they have a way to act.
  3. Develop a convincing message that will resonate with the public and politicians, seeking professional communications assistance if necessary.
  4. Convey that message and research data in a variety of ways, each timed to have maximum impact on the policy-making process.

Goldstein cites specific examples where research data provided the underpinnings for these effective advocacy steps by the CCPHA in recent years. He concludes that, given the critical yet unique roles that researchers and advocates play in the development of public policy, researchers should team with advocates to coordinate efforts, even before they begin work on a research project.