Translating research into policy: is 'advocacy' a dirty word?
How can and do researchers create policy impact? In what ways can research directly inform policy? How likely is this outcome? Researchers are now not only expected to conduct high quality research and publish in top ranking academic journals, they are also expected to have “impact” in the real world. In this paper I will summarise the current theory and practice of ‘research translation’ into policy. Five classes of research to policy translation will be described: 1. the conduct of the research; 2. research dissemination (other than through the usual academic means of conference presentations and journal articles); 3. the use of knowledge brokers (linkage-exchange); 4. dialogue methods, such as roundtables, forums and summits; and 5. The role of expert influence (osmotic process reliant on windows of opportunity). Research on the effectiveness of these five classes of research translation is very limited. Furthermore, it is clear that we need to move beyond a simplistic linear notion of research translation. Policy making is complex, dynamic and multi-determined (including the role of politics and ideology). Lessons for researchers from policy process theories may shed light on how they can maximise the uptake of their research results in this complex environment. All of the above sets the scene for a discussion about ‘advocacy’. In advocacy, researchers have the opportunity to not only employ effective translation strategies, but manage the complex policy environment. It seems to afford the opportunity to overcome much of what has been problematic in the research-translation domain. Yet is it appropriate for researchers to be advocates? Ethical challenges abound, and the divergent views about the appropriateness of a researcher taking on an advocacy role, ranging from the view that it is a “duty” of researchers to the view that it is “propaganda” will be explored. Drawing distinctions between ‘advice’, ‘activism’ and ‘advocacy’ may provide a pathway for those researchers seeking to increase their impact.