Background: Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) and HIV issues are often controversial and neglected, leading to challenges with engaging policy actors. Research evidence is complex, posing further challenges for ensuring that policy and practice are evidence-based. Many health researchers are adopting innovative approaches to engaging stakeholders in their research, yet these experiences are not often shared. This qualitative study focuses on the research communication and policy influencing objectives, strategies and experiences of four research consortia working on SRH, HIV and AIDS.
Methods: We carried out 22 in-depth interviews with researchers and communications specialists (research actors) from the four consortia and their partners, working in nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Using the ‘framework’ approach to qualitative data analysis, we identified factors that affect the interaction of research evidence with policy and practice. We used the ODI RAPID analytical framework to present these results, adapting this tool by incorporating the actions, strategies and positionality of research actors.
Results: The characteristics of researchers and their institutions, policy context, the multiplicity of actors, and the nature of the research evidence all play a role in policy influencing processes. Research actors perceived a trend towards increasingly intensive and varied communication approaches. Effective influencing strategies include making strategic alliances and coalitions and framing research evidence in ways that are most attractive to particular policy audiences. Tensions include the need to identify and avoid unnecessary communication or unintended impacts, challenges in assessing and attributing impact and the need for adequate resources and skills for communications work.
Conclusions: We contend that the adapted RAPID framework can serve as a tool for research actors to use in resolving these tensions, through facilitating a reflexive approach to considering their own combination of attributes, skills, networks and objectives and the ways these relate to policy contexts, actors and processes.
Health Research Policy and Systems (2011), 9 (Suppl 1): S4 [doi:10.1186/1478-4505-9-S1-S4]