Using Research to Influence Family Services and Policies

The following was first published on Centre for Research on Families and Relationships’ (CRFR) blog and is reposted here with permission.
CRFR co-director Sarah Morton and colleagues Sandra Nutley (Director of the Research Unit for Research Utilisation, and David Phipps (Director of Research Servics & Knowledge Exchange at York University, Canada) offer seven lessons, and associated challenges, to improve how research is used in policy and practice in a recent article in the new journal Families Societies and Relationships.
  1. Set realistic ambitions and expectations: Research is one form of knowledge that policy makers and practitioners will be using, but it is rare for research to have the definitive word.
  2. Improve research strategies to ensure they address relevant issues and expand our knowledge base rather than unwittingly replicate existing studies. Reviewing research and evaluation processes helps to ensure that research responds to relevant issues and address the main knowledge gaps.
  3. Shape – as well as respond to – policy and practice debates: Take up opportunities to influence policy and practice debates when they appear, – rather than waiting for opportunities to open up, work with advocacy organisations to raise issues of concern and get debates going.
  4. Create dialogue around research by pulling together different perspectives: Research on its own does not create change, but it can influence it. Encourage dialogues between people that recognises research needs to interact with practice experience and tacit knowledge.
  5. Recognise the role of dedicated knowledge broker organisations and networks: There are increasing numbers of knowledge broker organisations and networks who can help to facilitate the creation, sharing and application of research-based knowledge.
  6. Target multiple audiences to increase the reach and impact of your message: Disseminate research findings into wider political and public debate, alongside more targeted approaches. This might be targeting influential people, participating in media debates, speaking at policy and practice conferences and seminars or responding to consultation processes.
  7. Evaluate, learn, improve: Knowledge exchange is still an immature discipline; only through improved evaluation and learning will our understanding of effective strategies develop over time.
Don’t forget that challenges remain:
  • Partnerships and collaborative approaches often lead of increased research use and impact, but further investigation is needed into the effects of such relationships on the whole research agenda.
  • Excitement in using communication technologies and online tools can override the purpose of the communication and the needs of the audience. Evaluation is needed to determine online communication creates meaningful interactions.
  • Creativity and flexibility will become more important in ensuring social research is used in times of shrinking budgets and service cuts.
  • While we are better at sharing evidence, further work is needed on improving the knowledge to action process.
  • There needs to be better recognition of the role and skills of knowledge brokering and other knowledge exchange support activities.
  • Methods for better planning and evaluation of activities will only enhance the achievements in knowledge exchange practice already made.
We would like to thank editors of Families, Relationships and Societies, for their permission to reproduce key points from the journal article in this blog.
Please read our briefing, Knowledge Exchange at CRFR: past, present and future, for more information on the CRFR approach to knowledge exchange.