The Dos and Don’ts of Influencing Policy

Why healthy eating guidelines don't apply to the really sick person in a hospital bed.

The Dos and Don’ts of Influencing Policy

Dr. Lauren Ball is the  Executive Member of the Australasian Association for Academic Primary Care and in this week’s newsletter, the following reading recommendation was provided.


This high level article talks about influencing policy through research, which is something we all strive to achieve. The recommendations seem quite basic, but we seem to have been presented with somewhat of a conundrum.

After recently being involved in providing advice to the Queensland Government roadmap for reducing obesity,  the advice was commissioned through a third party and did not involve any real-time discussion with named people in government, nor did they know my name, only my label as an expert academic in the field.  This raises the question of how academics can better communicate with policymakers during daily activities, particularly for recommendation 4, 5 and 6.

Many academics have strong incentives to influence policymaking, but may not know where to start. We searched systematically for, and synthesised, the ‘how to’ advice in the academic peer-reviewed and grey literatures. We condense this advice into eight main recommendations:

(1) Do high quality research;

(2) make your research relevant and readable;

(3) understand policy processes;

(4) be accessible to policymakers: engage routinely, flexible, and humbly;

(5) decide if you want to be an issue advocate or honest broker;

(6) build relationships (and ground rules) with policymakers;

(7) be ‘entrepreneurial’ or find someone who is; and

(8) reflect continuously: should you engage, do you want to, and is it working?


This advice seems like common sense. However, it masks major inconsistencies, regarding different beliefs about the nature of the problem to be solved when using this advice. Furthermore, if not accompanied by critical analysis and insights from the peer-reviewed literature, it could provide misleading guidance for people new to this field.