Improving Use of Research-Based Information in Policy

The concept of evidence-based policymaking has gained significant traction in recent years. As societies grapple with increasingly complex challenges, from global pandemics to climate change, calls for policies that are grounded in scientifically-sound evidence have grown louder. However, the practical realization of this ideal remains somewhat elusive (Wardman, 2022). As a result, significant research efforts are now being dedicated to increase understanding of how scientific information can be more effectively translated into policy and action. In this blog post, we aim to provide a brief overview of some of this research. To improve the use of research-based information in policymaking, researchers suggest that the uptake and synthesis of information be considered a shared responsibility of researchers and policy makers who could mutually benefit from relationship-building, by knowledge exchange that crosses disciplinary boundaries, and by greater attention paid to public perceptions of evidence-based policy.  

Who Can Improve Use of Information in Policymaking?  

According to Sir Geoff Mulgan, Professor of Collective Intelligence, Social Innovation, and Public Policy at University College London, UK who was interviewed on the Science for Policy podcast, the uptake of scientific information by policymakers tends to be written off as part of the political process (Wardman, 2022). It has traditionally been thought that policymakers should be left to make the political decisions, including about the research they want to use, while researchers should be left to conduct research without being swayed by political ends (Wardman, 2022). However, the walls between policy and science have broken down slightly in recent years. During the pandemic, for example, we saw scientists and researchers brought inside policy spaces, guiding and often making important policy decisions such as when and how to allow visitors into hospitals or social gatherings in homes (Wardman, 2022). Mulgan argues that bringing policymakers and researchers to the same table to meet and to collaborate improves the use of information in policymaking (Wardman, 2022). Bogenschneider and Corbett (2021) echo this finding, framing evidence-based policy making as a two-way street that requires researchers to understand the policymaking process.   

A sizable body of research suggests that evidence-based policy will improve when both policymakers and researchers dedicate time and effort to relationship building. In a survey of researchers who had been involved in marine research that successfully impacted policy, Karcher et al. (2022) heard from several participants that their success was facilitated by relationships and acknowledgment that political processes matter. Similarly, Bogenschnieder and Corbett (2021) found that knowledge of others in the policy making network increased the likelihood of information uptake.  

According to Mulgan, these relationships don’t need to be developed in formal settings (Wardman, 2022). In fact, informal relationships between individuals are considered as important as any formal structure for knowledge sharing. On this point, in a study on the communication of scientific information to policymakers via email, Pugel et al. (2022) noted that informal communication, such as through email, could be a fruitful strategy for relationship building with more junior legislators who appear to view the research in their inboxes more often. However, it is worth noting that Pugel et al. (2022) could only track whether emails with scientific information were opened, not whether the research was thoughtfully considered or spurred any sort of response from the legislator. 

How Do We Improve the Use of Information Across Boundaries? 

Research is currently often siloed by industry or discipline, which can limit the convergence of research and policy development to produce comprehensive project outcomes and information (MacKillop et al., 2020). As a result, this division can limit the use of research in policymaking particularly when comprehensive information is required for multi-dimensional approaches to problem-solving and decision-making (MacKillop et al., 2020; Wardman, 2022). However, recent research suggests that the processes in which knowledge and information are exchanged can improve multidisciplinary collaboration (Karcher et al., 2022). 

Processes used for knowledge and information exchange have been identified as key enablers in studies of the use of research and its impact on policy development (Karcher et al., 2022). For example, at the marine science-policy interface, researchers identified a variety of knowledge exchange approaches, including activities (e.g., events, meetings, conferences), strategies (e.g., advisory bodies, knowledge co-production, etc.), and products (e.g., briefing notes, reports, etc.) that contributed to an increased likelihood that research did successfully inform policy development and decision-making (Karcher et al., 2022).  

Many policy issues are multi-dimensional and the outcomes may have wide ranging effects on a diversity of stakeholders. Equally, many people hold knowledge and experience that can be helpful in creating effective policy. It is, therefore, important to engage with a variety of perspectives, values, and experiences. Through interdisciplinary collaboration, policymakers can bridge gaps among industries, fostering a more holistic understanding of policy evidence, and ultimately leading to more informed and impactful decision-making processes. Using this approach to integrate multidisciplinary knowledge types and systems can bring everyone to the research and policymaking table for equal, equitable, and meaningful participation (Karcher et al., 2022; Wardman, 2022).  

Thus, researchers suggest that not only is information exchange required at every stage of the policy process, but a variety of knowledge types and approaches are essential (Karcher et al., 2022).   

How Does the Public’s Relationship with and Perceptions of Policymakers and Researchers Impact Evidence-Based Policy? 

Improvements to research-informed policy are limited without solid relationships between all stakeholders. Recent research and conversations among experts have highlighted how vital these relationships are in evidence-informed policymaking. When stakeholders in evidence-based policymaking are discussed, research often focuses on researchers and policymakers. Earlier we noted how a two-way process between researchers and policymakers can contribute to understanding and communication between the two groups (Bogenschneider & Corbett, 2021). While researchers and policy makers are major stakeholders, a third party should also be considered in these discussions, namely, the public. The perspectives of the people who will be affected by the policy and the context of these views can affect the development and support for evidence-based policy (Bundi & Pattyn, 2023; Karcher et al., 2022).  

Without consideration of context, policy and research are meaningless. The circumstances in which policy is made and the public’s relationship with researchers, policymakers, and policy must be considered. Successful policy development can be impacted by public perception and understanding of the policy setting (Karcher et al., 2022). For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the relationships and trust among members of the public, governments, and scientific experts were more prominent than ever previously in the public eye. Bundi and Pattyn (2023) conducted survey-based research investigating public attitudes about evidence-informed policymaking during the pandemic. They found that citizens’ attitudes are dependent on their perceived performance of the government as well as their trust in government, scientific experts, and fellow citizens (Bundi & Pattyn, 2023). The context in which a policy was developed and the public’s relationship with those creating the policy affected support for evidence-based policy.  


Researchers remain committed to improving the use of scientific information in policymaking. The literature we have reviewed suggests three key areas for improvement:   

  1. Recognition that the use of research-based information is a shared responsibility between policymakers and researchers,  
  2. Increased knowledge exchange across disciplinary boundaries to facilitate more effective use of research-based information, and  
  3. Consideration of how relationships among all stakeholders, including the public, can support the use evidence-based information.  

Fostering these relationships and crossing interdisciplinary boundaries is vital for the continued development, implementation, and maintenance of evidence-based policymaking. 



Bogenschneider, K., & Corbett, T. J. (2021). Engaging policymakers: Best practices from those who study it and do it! In K. Bogenschneider & T. J. Corbett. Evidence-based policymaking: Envisioning a new era of theory, research, and practice (2nd ed., Chapter 10, pp. 254-292). New York: Routledge.

Bundi, P., & Pattyn, V. (2023). Trust, but verify? Understanding citizen attitudes toward evidence-informed policy making. Public Administration, 101(3), 1227-1246.

Karcher, D. B., Cvitanovic, C., van Putten, I. E., Colvin, R. M., Armitage, D., Aswani, S., Ballesteros, M., Ban, N. C., Barragán-Paladines, M. J., Bednarek, A., Bell, J. D., Brooks, C. M., Daw, T. M., de la Cruz-Modino, R., Francis, T. B., Fulton, E. A., Hobday, A. J., Holcer, D., Hudson,C., … Zhang, J. (2022). Lessons from bright-spots for advancing knowledge exchange at the interface of marine science and policy. Journal of Environmental Management, 314, 114994.

MacKillop, E., Quarmby, S., & Downe, J. (2020). Does knowledge brokering facilitate evidence-based policy? A review of existing knowledge and an agenda for future research. Policy & Politics, 48(2), 335-353.

Pugel, J., Long, E. C., Fernandes, M. A., Cruz, K., Giray, C., Crowley, D. M., & Scott, J. T. (2022). Who is listening? Profiles of policymaker engagement with scientific communication. Policy & Internet, 14(1), 186-201. 

Wardman, T. (Host). (2022, December 5). Geoff Mulgan on how to synthesize knowledge. Science for Policy Podcast. [Audio podcast episode]. SAPEA Communications. 


Authors: Blake Curry, Katherine Dalby, and Rachel McMillan 

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

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