Improving the translation and dissemination of health services research

I am attending a two day conference in Washington, D.C. that is focused on seeking strategies to  improve the translation  and dissemination of research to policy makers/the policy process. This conference is an activity of AcademyHealth’s Translation and Dissemination Institute. The agenda is especially interesting because it brings together not only health policy types, but persons and presentations focused on the science of communication and how older persons learn new information.

The longer I am involved in research, the more acutely aware I become of how hard it is to correctly communicate high quality research to policy makers in an understandable format, at the right time.

update: Matthew Nisbet, Associate Professor at  American University (@MCNisbet ) gave a very interesting paper drawing lessons for the translation of health services research to influence policy. His 4 main points:

1. First, is that the traditional goal of dissemination and translation to boost technical knowledge is a relatively ineffective way to influence public judgments and decisions. In highly contested political environments, the impact of knowledge often varies by way of an individual’s political identity, such that well-educated individuals from different social groups tend to be the most divided in their opinions. In this context, even carefully crafted efforts to influence those individuals holding factually incorrect beliefs; may only serve to reinforce those beliefs.

Other research suggests that when dissemination, translation and media outreach efforts intensify, it is often the best educated who benefit from the increased access to information as lower socio-economic, and/or minority populations remain inattentive and disengaged. In all, disseminating and translating expert knowledge via ever more sophisticated multimedia tools and online platforms may in fact only strengthen political disagreement among already highly informed partisans while simultaneously failing to engage historically under-served segments of the public.

2. Second, based on this research, social scientists recommend that effective communication focus on “framing” or conveying the social relevance of an issue while fitting information to the existing values, mental models, experience, and interests of an intended audience.

These strategies are enhanced if experts partner with everyday opinion-leaders who are trusted among a targeted group, who can pass on information by way of word of mouth and social media, and who thereby shape impressions within their social networks about what is socially desirable and acceptable.

3. Third, simply applying research to the formulation and design of a broader based communication strategy is not enough. Health services experts also need to carefully consider the role they play as policy advisors.

In overcoming the polarized perceptions that tend to derail substantive discussion of policy, health services experts and their organizations may be most effective if they adopt the role of “honest broker,” expanding and diversifying the policy choices available to decision-makers.

4. Finally, health services experts and their organizations can benefit by pooling their resources and investing in localized public and media forums where decision-makers, stakeholders and members of the public learn, debate, and participate by offering their own recommendations and solutions to health services problems.

This local and regional engagement at a time of gridlock at the Federal level can catalyze new ideas, leaders, and networks of political cooperation.

About Don Taylor
Professor of Public Policy (with appointments in Business, Nursing, Community and Family Medicine, and the Duke Clinical Research Institute), and Chair of the Academic Council at Duke University . I am one of the founding faculty of the Margolis Center for Health Policy. My research focuses on improving care for persons who are dying, and I am co-PI of a CMMI award in Community Based Palliative Care. I teach both undergrads and grad students at Duke. On twitter @donaldhtaylorjr

2 Responses to Improving the translation and dissemination of health services research

  1. Pingback: Language of Bringing Research to Policy | freeforall

  2. Pingback: Getting health information out of the journals and into the world | The Incidental Economist

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