Research for policy: A study on improving the contribution of scientific knowledge to evidence-informed health policy

Ingrid Hegger

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Research for Policy: A study on improving the contribution of scientific knowledge to evidence-informed health

The approach of evidence-informed health policy-making is generally considered as the best means of safeguarding public health: governments should take into account the best available research evidence in health policy-making. Most countries have established a National Public Health Institute (NPHI) to support their government in essential public health operations by activities such as health protection, population health assessment and research to produce evidence for policy-making. However, NPHI-researchers experience that achieving contributions to health policy-making appears to be more difficult than one would expect in view of the NPHI’s mission. In the body of scientific literature on knowledge utilization, alignment between researchers and policy-makers is recognized as an important key for enhancing contributions of scientific knowledge to policy-making.

In this study, we focused on research projects, conducted by a NPHI in commission of governmental organizations. We investigated how alignment in such projects is achieved and how alignment can be improved. Our aim was to determine what a practical approach is to enhance knowledge contributions from NPHIs to evidence-informed health policy-making

In three case studies, we analyzed in detail the process of a NPHI research project by using Contribution Mapping, a method developed by Kok and Schuit (2012). We identified eight key areas that require special attention during the alignment with policy-makers, the alignment areas 'goal'; 'tasks and authority'; 'quality'; 'consultative structure'; 'vertical alignment'; 'organizational environment'; 'presentation' and 'relevance and timing'. The case studies revealed that achieving alignment between researchers and policy-makers needs continuous efforts and often much more time than anticipated. Although alignment is important, scientific independence is also an important value to safeguard. Thus, researchers need insights on the role of scientific knowledge in policy-making and support of their organization in undertaking alignment efforts. Due to the ever-changing context of a research project, alignment can also be easily lost. Vertical alignment in the own organization is of major importance for achieving adequate horizontal alignment at every organizational level.

Since every situation asks for specific alignment efforts, generic alignment efforts cannot be determined beforehand. Instead, researchers should regularly reflect on the alignment areas during the course of their research project. Based on our findings, we developed a reflection instrument to support researchers in reflection on alignment. The R4P tool consists of open reflection questions with examples from case studies and a possible solution to the outlined problem. This allows researchers (but also policy makers) to determine systematically which alignment efforts are required at the given moment.

To conclude, NPHIs and also other knowledge institutes should acknowledge that reaching alignment needs much more effort, time and resources than often presumed. Research and knowledge production in commission of governmental organizations to serve evidence-informed health policy is in fact a delicate balancing act between alignment and independence. By organizing the institute in a way that facilitates and supports this balancing act, the NPHI may optimize its contributions to health policy.

Ingrid Hegger, scientific officer at the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment RIVM, will defend her thesis on this study on Wednesday, September 6, 2017 at 4 pm in the aula of Tilburg University.
Promotores: Prof.Dr.Ing.Hans van Oers (Tilburg University) and Prof.Dr.Ir. Jantine Schuit (VU University Amsterdam); Co-promotor: Dr. Susan Janssen (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment RIVM).
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
  • van Oers, Hans, Promotor
  • Schuit, A.J., Promotor, External person
  • Janssen, S.W.J., Co-promotor, External person
  • van de Goor, Ien, Member PhD commission
  • Jansen, M.W.J., Member PhD commission, External person
  • van der Steen, M.A., Member PhD commission, External person
  • Westert, Gert, Member PhD commission
  • Bekker, M.P.M., Member PhD commission, External person
Award date6 Sept 2017
Place of PublicationEnschede
Print ISBNs978-94-6233-673-5
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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