Assessing the impact that research evidence has on policy is complex. It involves consideration of conceptual issues of what determines research impact and policy change. There are also a range of methodological issues relating to the question of attribution and the counter-factual. The dynamics of SRH, HIV and AIDS, like many policy arenas, are partly generic and partly issue- and context-specific. Against this background, this article reviews some of the main conceptualisations of research impact on policy, including generic determinants of research impact identified across a range of settings, as well as the specificities of SRH in particular. We find that there is scope for greater cross-fertilisation of concepts, models and experiences between public health researchers and political scientists working in international development and research impact evaluation. We identify aspects of the policy landscape and drivers of policy change commonly occurring across multiple sectors and studies to create a framework that researchers can use to examine the influences on research uptake in specific settings, in order to guide attempts to ensure uptake of their findings. This framework has the advantage that distinguishes between pre-existing factors influencing uptake and the ways in which researchers can actively influence the policy landscape and promote research uptake through their policy engagement actions and strategies. We apply this framework to examples from the case study papers in this supplement, with specific discussion about the dynamics of SRH policy processes in resource poor contexts. We conclude by highlighting the need for continued multi-sectoral work on understanding and measuring research uptake and for prospective approaches to receive greater attention from policy analysts.
Health Research Policy and Systems (2011) 9 (Suppl 1):S3 [doi:10.1186/1478-4505-9-S1-S3]