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Published by

Susie Crossman and Tara Tancred

26 October 2021, 3:57 UTC Share

How to engage and involve policymakers in research

At the onset of a research project or programme, engaging with policymakers can be a daunting challenge. But careful planning at the research proposal writing stage and nourishing strategic partnerships can make engagement with policymakers the foundation for achieving impact. After all, policymaker buy-in and knowledge is essential for promoting sustainability and embedding the intervention.

At the Centre for Capacity Research at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, we specialise in the science of how to strengthen the capacity of research systems working across low- and middle-income countries. Our research spans a diverse range of disciplines from capacity strengthening national diagnostic laboratories for stigmatising skin diseases in Liberia, to strengthening the research capacity of universities and research institutions in sub-Saharan Africa. We also connect with groups of funders and policymakers to share best practices. In all of the research undertaken by CCR, engagement with policymakers is key. We use simple strategies embedded into our projects and activities to achieve success.

The relationship between researchers and policymakers can be rich and fulfilling. Policymaker engagement brings a wealth of valuable local knowledge and opportunities for buy-in and sustainability to research projects. Placing research findings amongst people holding positions of influence, both within the national and international decision-making arenas, enables us to drive changes in national policy and practice.

Tips for engaging policymakers


  • Think about policy engagement from the outset and do write it into proposals.
  • Where possible, include policymakers on a study team (as a co-applicant/co-investigator) to capture their inputs to maximise the likelihood of uptake of research into policy.
  • Ensure you are familiar with the policy environment within the context of the research you are proposing to do. Which policies are relevant to your work, and how might you envision impacting upon these?
  • Ensure there are resources (people, money, materials, time) for policymaker engagement; engaging policymakers shouldn’t be an “add on” to your research.
  • Possible platforms for initiation, beyond working with policymakers as co-applicants, include, for example: stakeholder meetings to discuss planned research activities to secure inputs and ownership; initiation workshops in which policymakers can meet the study team and be fully orientated around the research (again, with an opportunity to secure their inputs), possibly taking on a leadership role to introduce the study to other policymakers at lower levels of government; and undertake a joint analysis of the policy environment and needs to establish their priorities.


  • Take time to build trust and to understand and navigate power dynamics.
  • Clear communication and transparency is key—ensure expectations across parties are explicit and agreed upon and consider the need for communication activities to “demystify” technical language.
  • Policy engagement needs to be consistent and ongoing. Communicate with policymakers to establish a plan on how this will be achieved.
  • Ask for their inputs at every stage. Policymaker engagement should not be limited to the beginning and end of a study but embedded throughout.


  • Some funders expect to see “evidence” of policymaker engagement. To that end, keep track of what you do, how often, with whom, what was decided, and how this informed or changed the research process.
  • “Touch base” with policymakers as you go to understand how policymakers view the research progression and to ensure they are satisfied with the level and outputs of engagement.


  • Develop your own and your teams’ network and profile amongst policymakers and influencers. Whether working within the UK or internationally, access to, and the availability of, policymakers is a barrier often faced by researchers. To overcome this barrier at the Centre we have carefully crafted and developed an extensive network of project researchers, partners, collaborators and peers with direct access to policymakers or with the policymakers themselves. It is often easier to re-engage with policymakers with whom you have a pre-existing working relationship.
  • To continually engage with UK policymakers, conference attendance and network-building are essential. This allows us to inform prospective but relevant policymakers whom we perhaps had not yet engaged, inviting new opportunities to share our research, experiences and findings. It also allows us to keep abreast of new developments and quickly respond to these. At the Centre, we prioritise more junior members to represent our team at events in which policymakers may be present, to better foster and expand working relationships, recognising policymaker engagement as a cornerstone of academic career progression.

Susie Crossman is a Research Impact and Knowledge Translation Officer at the Centre for Capacity Research at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. She works with colleagues to measure, evaluate, and evidence the impact of the Centre’s activities. Through the implementation of research projects, Susie ensures the Centre’s research translates into practice and improves health outcomes.

Tara Tancred is a Senior Research Associate at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Tara’s research interests include implementation research including process evaluation, theory of change-based evaluation, and realist evaluation. She is also interested in health systems strengthening and applying “systems thinking” to research to explore the impact of interventions on a system as a whole. Tara typically applies these approaches to quality improvement interventions with the aim of improving quality of care and/or health outcomes for mothers and newborns.

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