Impact Practitioners

Barriers to and facilitators of research use in policymaking 

By 22/06/2023

This 12-page systematic review by Kathryn Oliver, Simon Innvar, Theo Lorenc, Jenny Woodman and James Thomas studies the factors that influence the use of evidence in policymaking. The study examines 145 academic papers and systematic reviews from 59 countries. The resources are mainly drawn from the health field but the sample also includes papers from criminal justice, transport, conservation and environment management and other disciplines. 

The paper has categorised the barriers to, and facilitators of, research evidence use into six themes: a) organisations and resources, b) contact and collaboration, c) research and researcher characteristics, d) policymaker characteristics, e) policy characteristics and f) other. 

The most frequently reported barriers to evidence use are poor access to good quality, relevant research and lack of timely research output. The most common facilitators are the collaboration between researchers and policymakers, and improved relationships and skills. 

Over two-thirds of all 145 analysed studies mention contact, collaboration and relationships as major facilitators of evidence use. The most prominent barrier to forming these relationships is timing and a lack of opportunity to do so. 

Other factors affecting the evidence use are organisational issues such as poor dissemination of evidence, high costs and lack of access. Other factors mentioned in connection with organisational barriers include poor long-term policy planning and inflexible and non-transparent policy processes.  

The format of research outputs is another important factor. The authors advise researchers to make their outputs relevant, reliable and clear. It is also important that scientists themselves have a good understanding of the policy processes and know the context surrounding them. Policymakers value researchers more if they are non-partisan, produce unbiased results and provide expert advice.  

However, policymakers can also influence the uptake and use of research evidence. The lack of their research skills is a common barrier. Policymakers’ beliefs about the utility of research evidence, their experiences, judgments and values are other important factors. 

Additionally, there are many competing pressures that can prevent the development of evidence-based policy, such as various economic, political, social and cultural factors. 

In conclusion, timely access to high-quality and relevant evidence, collaborations, relationships and skills-building with policymakers are the most important factors in influencing the use of research evidence. In contrast, the most common barriers are the lack of available research, lack of skills, having no time or opportunity to use the evidence and high costs.

This article is part of our initiative, R2A Impact Practitioners. To find out more, please click here.

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