Background: Research institutions and donor organizations are giving growing attention to how research evidence is communicated to influence policy. In the area of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and HIV there is less weight given to understanding how evidence is successfully translated into practice. Policy issues in SRH can be controversial, influenced by political factors and shaped by context such as religion, ethnicity, gender and sexuality.
Methods: The case-studies presented in this paper analyse findings from SRH/HIV research programmes in sub-Saharan Africa:
- Maternal syphilis screening in Ghana,
- Legislative change for sexual violence survivors In Ghana,
- Male circumcision policy in South Africa,
- Male circumcision policy in Tanzania.
Our analysis draws on two frameworks, Sumner et al’s synthesis approach and Nutley’s research use continuum.
Results: The analysis emphasises the relationships and communications involved in using research to influence policy and practice and recognises a distinction whereby practice is not necessarily influenced as a result of policy change – especially in SRH – where there are complex interactions between policy actors.
Conclusion: Both frameworks demonstrate how policy networks, partnership and advocacy are critical in shaping the extent to which research is used and the importance of on-going and continuous links between a range of actors to maximize research impact on policy uptake and implementation. The case-studies illustrate the importance of long-term engagement between researchers and policy makers and how to use evidence to develop policies which are sensitive to context: political, cultural and practical.
Health Research Policy and Systems (2011) 9 (Suppl 1): S10 [doi:10.1186/1478-4505-9-S1-S10]