How research impacts on health policy in Ireland: A case study of alcohol and drug policy
Grealish, Helen Dolores Mary
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Abstract The goal of public health and health promotion practitioners is to increase the health of populations through evidence informed health policy. Comparable to evidence-based medicine, public health advocates argue health policies based on scientific knowledge are ultimately better than those based on moral or ideological beliefs. Increasingly too in research proposals and in institutional research assessment exercises, academic researchers are being asked to provide evidence of the wider impacts of their work, outside of their field of academic pursuits. This study explored the utilisation of academic research by policymakers in the development of alcohol and drug policy in Ireland. In addition, it tested the practicality of using the Research Impact Framework (Kuruvilla et al., 2006) in examining how academic researchers think through the impact of their work. A triangulation of methods was employed in this retrospective case study. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with key informants from the policymaking community, and with academic researchers from the fields of alcohol and drug research. This was complemented by the analysis of publically available policy documents on drugs and alcohol. The findings demonstrated that research evidence is only one type of knowledge used in public health policymaking. In the policy documents, it was most frequently used to identify the extent of an issue in society and to justify policy development in a specific area. In developing policy solutions its use was more haphazard and subject to the economic and political environment in which the policy was being developed. In these contextual situations for research to influence policy outcomes it needed to be acceptable to policymakers, acceptable to the public and cost effective to implement. This thesis found that researchers seeking to increase their influence on policy are required to increase their understanding of the policymaking process. Research evidence, framed and packaged in a way that was conscious of the contextual policy environment in which it would arrive was more likely to have an impact. The Research Impact Framework (Kuruvilla et al., 2006) was found to be an appropriate and efficient tool in helping academics to identify the impacts of their work.
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