Why is translating research into policy so hard? How theory can help public health researchers achieve impact?

S. Gentry*, L. Milden, M. P. Kelly

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: To describe how overly simple conceptualisations of how research is translated into public health policy impact impair effective translation. To suggest how alternative approaches to conceptualising impact, which incorporate recent developments in social and political sciences, can help stakeholders improve translation of high-quality public health research into policy impact. Study design: Researchers often describe generating impact in terms of linear or cyclical models, in which the production of scientific findings alone compels action and leads to impact. However, such conceptualisations do not appear to have supported improved translation of research into policy and practice. Improving understanding of how research impact is achieved may identify areas stakeholders seeking to achieve impact could target. Methods: Overview of theoretical and practical approaches to achieving public health policy impact from research. Results: Despite much evidence that translating research into public health policy is more complex than linear and cyclical models suggest, stakeholders often revert to these heuristics, that is shorthand ways of thinking that allow simple but inaccurate answers to complex problems. This leads to potentially missing opportunities for impact, such as conducting research in collaboration with local policy makers and contributing ideas to the wider narrative through the media and public engagement. Conclusion: The process of translating research into impact appears more complex than that suggested by linear and cyclical models. Success involves a planned approach targeting multiple routes to impact, sustained over time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)90-96
Number of pages7
JournalPublic Health
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Royal Society for Public Health


  • Public health policy
  • Research impact


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