Archived: How to attract a policy maker’s attention

2 June 2016

Associate Professor Sarah Thackway, a senior executive in NSW Health, is constantly trying to find innovative ways to improve the use of research in the policy process. She shared these valuable tips for researchers at a recent meeting of our Research Network.

  1. Understand I’m busy. My diary is often full with back to back meetings. You need to be able to briefly communicate your idea to me. Consider dot points in the first instance as I literally might only have time to listen to you in the elevator before I’m called to the next appointment.
  1. Understand policy imperatives. Researchers may focus on generating evidence for policy, but my focus is often more on implementation. What I’m weighing up is whether an intervention will succeed or not. I’m looking for timeliness, relevance, accuracy and for replicable, scalable research.
  1. Identify the value proposition of what you are doing: Researchers shouldn’t assume there is capability within the government agency to uptake all research findings; there are other pieces of the policy puzzle that we need to assess. We need to consider whether it is possible to scale up the intervention, what is the optimal dose, do we have the workforce, does this integrate with current practice, and what are the costs. Very often we see research that just doesn’t work in the real world.
  1. Pick your timing. My year revolves around some key dates – for example, when parliament is sitting, the state budget, national and state ministerial and senior officer committees, cabinet submissions, budget estimates and the local health district performance cycle. Think about what my priorities are at the time you’re trying to contact me.
  1. Trust and respect our roles and perspectives: A great deal of research evidence is also generated by policy makers and practitioners as we roll out state-wide programs. We want to be involved in co-production of evidence with you! So build a long standing, trusting relationship with me so that I know who to talk to and seek trusted expert advice from at short notice.

Sarah Thackway is Executive Director of Epidemiology and Evidence for NSW Health, the largest public health system in Australia. She’s also a member of the Prevention Centre’s Leadership Executive.