Practical lessons for bringing policy-makers on board in sexual and reproductive health research

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Background
The need to translate research into policy, i.e. making research findings a driving force in agenda-setting and policy change, is increasingly acknowledged. However, little is known about translation mechanisms in the field of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) outside North American or European contexts. This paper seeks to give an overview of the existing knowledge on this topic as well as to document practical challenges and remedies from the perspectives of researchers involved in four SRH research consortium projects in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, China and India.

Methods
A literature review and relevant project documents were used to develop an interview guide through which researchers could reflect on their experiences in engaging with policy-makers, and particularly on the obstacles met and the strategies deployed by the four project consortia to circumvent them.

Results
Our findings confirm current recommendations on an early and steady involvement of policy-makers, however they also suggest that local barriers between researchers and policy-making spheres and individuals can represent major hindrances to the realization of translation objectives. Although many of the challenges might be common to different contexts, creating locally-adapted responses is deemed key to overcome them. Researchers’ experiences also indicate that - although inevitable - recognizing and addressing these challenges is a difficult, time- and energy-consuming process for all partners involved. Despite a lack of existing knowledge on translation efforts in SRH research outside North American or European contexts, and more particularly in low and middle-income countries, it is clear that existing pressure on health and policy systems in these settings further complicates them.

Conclusions
This article brings together literature findings and researchers’ own experiences in translating research results into policy and highlights the major challenges research conducted on sexual and reproductive health outside North American or European contexts can meet. Future SRH projects should be particularly attentive to these potential obstacles in order to tailor appropriate and consistent strategies within their existing resources.

Keywords
Stakeholders Policy-makers Research Translation Policy Sexual and Reproductive Health Latin America Sub-Saharan Africa China India

Authors & affiliation: 
Aurore GuieuEmail author, Wei-Hong Zhang, Yves Lafort, Peter Decat, Sara De Meyer, Shuchen Wang, Birgit Kerstens and Els Duysburgh ICRH, Ghent University, Belgium
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Published In: 
BMC Health Services ResearchBMC series – open, inclusive and trusted201616:649 DOI: 10.1186/s12913-016-1889-1
Publication date: 
Friday, November 11, 2016