The complex evidence-policy interface in low and middle income country settings is receiving increasing attention. Future Health Systems (FHS): Innovations for Equity, is a research consortium conducting health systems explorations in six Asian and African countries: Bangladesh, India, China, Afghanistan, Uganda, and Nigeria. The cross-country research consortium provides a unique opportunity to explore the research-policy interface. Three key activities were undertaken during the initial phase of this five-year project. First, key considerations in strengthening evidence-policy linkages in health system research were developed by FHS researchers through workshops and electronic communications. Four key considerations in strengthening evidence-policy linkages are postulated: development context; research characteristics; decision-making processes; and stakeholder engagement. Second, these four considerations were applied to research proposals in each of the six countries to highlight features in the research plans that potentially strengthen the research-policy interface and opportunities for improvement. Finally, the utility of the approach for setting research priorities in health policy and systems research was reflected upon. These three activities yielded interesting findings. First, developmental consideration with four dimensions - poverty, vulnerabilities, capabilities, and health shocks - provides an entry point in examining research-policy interfaces in the six settings. Second, research plans focused upon on the ground realities in specific countries strengthens the interface. Third, focusing on research prioritized by decision-makers, within a politicized health arena, enhances chances of research influencing action. Lastly, early and continued engagement of multiple stakeholders, from local to national levels, is conducive to enhanced communication at the interface. The approach described has four main utilities: first, systematic analyses of research proposals using key considerations ensure such issues are incorporated into research proposals; second, the exact meaning, significance, and inter-relatedness of these considerations can be explored within the research itself; third, cross-country learning can be enhanced; and finally, translation of evidence into action may be facilitated. Health systems research proposals in low and middle income countries should include reflection on transferring research findings into policy. Such deliberations may be informed by employing the four key considerations suggested in this paper in analyzing research proposals.
Health Research Policy and Systems (2008) 6: 4 [doi:10.1186/1478-4505-6-4]