This commentary introduces the HARPS supplement on getting research into policy and practice in sexual and reproductive health (SRH). The papers in this supplement have been produced by the Sexual Health and HIV Evidence into Practice (SHHEP) collaboration of international research, practitioner and advocacy organizations based in research programmes funded by the UK Department for International Development. The commentary describes the increasing interest from research and communication practitioners, policy makers and funders in expanding the impact of research on policy and practice. It notes the need for contextually embedded understanding of ways to engage multiple stakeholders in the politicized, sensitive and often contested arenas of sexual and reproductive health. The commentary then introduces the papers under their respective themes: (1) The theory and practice of research engagement (two global papers); (2) Applying policy analysis to explore the role of research evidence in SRH and HIV/AIDS policy (two papers with examples from Ghana, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia); (3) Strategies and methodologies for engagement (five papers on Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Tanzania and Swaziland respectively); (4) Advocacy and engagement to influence attitudes on controversial elements of sexual health (two papers, Bangladesh and global); and (5) Institutional approaches to inter-sectoral engagement for action and strengthening research communications (two papers, Ghana and global). The papers illustrate the many forms research impact can take in the field of sexual and reproductive health. This includes discursive changes through carving out legitimate spaces for public debate; content changes such as contributing to changing laws and practices, procedural changes such as influencing how data on SRH are collected, and behavioural changes through partnerships with civil society actors such as advocacy groups and journalists. The contributions to this supplement provide a body of critical analysis of communication and engagement strategies across the spectrum of SRH and HIV/AIDS research through the testing of different models for the research-to-policy interface. They provide new insights on how researchers and communication specialists can respond to changing policy climates to create windows of opportunity for influence.
Health Research Policy and Systems (2011) 9 (Suppl 1):S2 [doi:10.1186/1478-4505-9-S1-S2]