Barriers and Enablers in Information Transfer at the Science-Policy Interface

The transfer of research information from providers to users is essential for management operations and decision-making. More specifically, users of information such as policy-makers and managers often use evidence from different sources to inform their decisions about local and global problems. It is important to highlight that different types of knowledge exist as well. For instance, scientific knowledge is different from experiential, local, or traditional knowledge (Nguyen, Young, Corriveau, Hinch & Cooke, 2018). Although the concept of information transfer sounds rather simplistic, researchers have identified numerous enablers and barriers associated with the production, distribution, use, communication, integration, and selection of information in management and decision-making.

Along the lines of information transfer, Druckman and Lupia (2017) recognized the need to not only communicate research information but to frame information in a way that helps eliminate several barriers to effective understanding of the information. Some barriers can be removed by framing the information so that “competition for attention, political polarization, and politically-induced status quo bias” are acknowledged and managed in a way that makes the information more important than the politics and bias surrounding it (Druckman & Lupia, 2017, p. 353). Druckman and Lupia acknowledged that even though framing is a good method for increasing the impact of research, it does entail some drawbacks. For example, some information needs to be framed in particular ways, such as consensus framing, and it is not always possible to present information as having received consent from all scientific authorities. As well, politics may play a large role in how research information is received. Certain political statements regarding research information may adversely affect the reception of that information. This point ties in closely with what Nguyen et al. (2018) discussed in their paper about how information is selectively evaluated according to environmental, organizational, and governmental cultures. No degree of framing may be able to change the perception about information once people have developed a biased view of it. This outcome suggests how other methods can be used to transfer information at different stages, to perhaps prevent political bias from occurring.

In a recent study, Cossarini, MacDonald and Wells (2014) examined enablers and barriers to the production, distribution, and use of grey literature published by the Gulf of Maine Council (GOMC). The study emphasized that enablers and barriers can occur at multiple stages. For instance, the main enabler of knowledge production identified by the study included having a reliable “publications protocol” with “multiple levels of review” for intended audiences (Cossarini et al., 2014, p. 167). In contrast, a “lack of awareness about the [publications] protocol” and a lack of understanding of the intended audience’s needs can hinder production (Cossarini et al., 2014, p. 167). In terms of distribution, factors such as the presence of effective promotion strategies, “diverse means of dissemination,” and strong relationships with stakeholders were all classified as enablers, while the lack of formal distribution strategies and restricted funding were classified as barriers (Cossarini et al., 2014, p. 166). The study also determined that the use of GOMC publications increased when “influential and respected” members of the organization encouraged both internal and external use of publications at meetings or through personal/professional contacts (Cossarini et al., 2014, p. 166). Other factors such as the readability of publications and audience awareness of the credibility of the publications were also classified as facilitators (Cossarini et al., 2014). Lastly, in terms of barriers, the language and perceived credibility of publications were identified as limiting factors to user-accessibility and awareness of publications (Cossarini et al., 2014). Studying key enablers and barriers and understanding their impact is important, especially to ensure that “fiscal resources are [being] effectively allocated” and that the transfer of information and knowledge between providers and users is optimized (Cossarini et al., 2014, p. 170). Cossarini et al. (2014) recognized the need for better methods of research distribution and implementation and Gavine et al. (2018) proposed some solutions to the barriers faced when distributing information to promote user uptake of research. Gavine et al. (2018) noted that one of the major barriers to evidence-based policymaking is the vast difference that can occur between how academic institutions pursue research initiatives versus how governmental institutions conduct research. Several other barriers were also noted by the authors; however, most are addressed by involving experts and policymakers in the field of research. This practice ensures that high quality research is being pursued and that the research is relevant to what policymakers need at the same time.

It is important to note that the barriers to use are not only specific to knowledge-providers. The use of information can also be affected by an organization’s contextual barriers (i.e., institutional structure, bureaucracy, culture, funding, political factors, lack of tools and process, etc.), perceived value/applicability/compatibility of new information, motivational factors, timing of publications, time constraints, and overabundance of information (Nguyen, et al., 2018; Walgrave & Dejaeghere, 2017). Studies conducted by Nguyen, et al. (2018) and Walgrave and Dejaeghere (2017) suggest that information and knowledge can be processed and evaluated differently by users due to different environmental factors. Both studies highlight the importance of “government models, political regimes, organizational culture” and different institutional values/personal interests of the stakeholders in decision-making (Nguyen, et al., 2018, p. 1). Additionally, decision-makers such as politicians are often bombarded with an overwhelming volume of information and, therefore, they must be selective in what they pay attention to as well (Walgrave & Dejaeghere, 2017). It is crucial that “knowledge producers who seek to produce relevant information…be mindful of the multifaceted environment that knowledge users engage with daily” (Nguyen, et al., 2018, p. 8). In order to build a relationship of trust between stakeholders, it is necessary to ensure effective communication between knowledge providers and users. A strong relationship between the two will help integrate the interests of different stakeholders and reduce barriers.

In conclusion, the interactions that exist between the different enablers and barriers of information transfer are complex. Nutley, Walter and Davies (2007) help to fill in many of the gaps that the other authors left out of their discussions, not because the authors were deficient in their research or methodology, but because their studies focused on specific cases and scenarios. Nutley et al.’s more comprehensive review of how research is currently conducted in the health care, education, and criminal justice fields shows that different fields use many different methods of research information dissemination and adoption (as discussed by the other authors); however, they concluded that the interactive approaches proved most effective in “research use among policy makers” (Nutley, et al., 2007).



Cossarini, D. M., MacDonald, B. H., & Wells, P. G. (2014). Communicating marine environmental information to decision makers: Enablers and barriers to use of publications (grey literature) of the Gulf of Maine Council on the Marine Environment. Ocean & Coastal Management, 96,163-172.

Druckman, J. N., & Lupia, A. (2017). Using frames to make scientific communication more effective. In K. H. Jamieson, D. Kahan, & D. A. Scheufele (Eds.). The Oxford handbook of the science of science communication(pp. 251-260). New York: Oxford University Press.

Gavine, A., MacGillivray, S., Ross-Davie, M., Campbell, K., White, L., & Renfrew, M. (2018). Maximising the availability and use of high-quality evidence for policymaking: Collaborative, targeted and efficient evidence reviews. Palgrave Communications, 4(1), [8 p.].

Nguyen, V. M., Young, N., Corriveau, M., Hinch, S. G., & Cooke, S. J. (2018). What is “usable” knowledge? Perceived barriers for integrating new knowledge into management of an iconic Canadian fishery. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences,1–12.

Nutley, S. M., Walter, I., & Davies, H. T. O. (2007). Improving the use of research: What’s been tried and what might work? In Using evidence. How research can inform public services (Chapter 5, pp. 125-154). Bristol: The Policy Press

Walgrave, S., & Dejaeghere, Y. (2017). Surviving information overload: How elite politicians select information. Governance, 30(2), 229–244.


Authors: Jayme Zhang and Julie Timm


This blog post is part of a series of posts authored by students in the graduate course “The Role of Information in Public Policy and Decision Making” offered at Dalhousie University.


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