By Samantha Smith, AcademyHealth

In health and health care, simply producing evidence and making it available to policymakers has seldom been enough to effectively inform policy and improve health. The challenges of translating research into policy and practice are well-documented, and there have been many efforts to address these barriers. The field of policy dissemination & implementation (policy D&I) is one such effort, with the goal of generating knowledge, spreading evidence among policymakers, and integrating evidence-based interventions into policy designs.*

As with any field, funding plays an important role in the undertaking and advancement of policy D&I projects. A January 2016 article in Implementation Science by Purtle, Peters, & Brownson addresses this issue by analyzing past funding of policy D&I projects by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The authors found that between 2007-2014, 8.2% of all projects funded through D&I funding announcements were focused on policy D&I.

Although overall funding for policy D&I increased over the time period studied, there were differences in how much funding each Institute within the NIH devoted to policy D&I projects. The National Cancer Institute was the main funder of policy D&I research, while others, such as the National Institute of Nursing Research, did not fund any policy D&I projects. The studies funded used a variety of methods, and most were focused on policy outcomes, implementation research, state-level policies. It is not surprising that tobacco and cancer control were the most common topics, as evidence-based policy strategies already exist for this work.

The findings of this study raise interesting questions about funding of policy D&I projects more broadly. Given that the authors focused only on federal funding from one agency, what work have other agencies funded in this area? Who is funding this work from philanthropic foundations or the private sector and where are areas of overlap? Outside of tobacco and cancer control, are there other areas that may benefit from this type of funding?

These and other questions highlight potential opportunities for more study in this area and across other disciplines. In their conclusion, the authors suggest that the growing NIH investment in policy D&I research could be an early signal that the field is becoming more widely known, and that the level of support for this work has perhaps not yet matched the potential applications for improving health.

*Dodson E, Brownson RC, Weiss S. Policy dissemination research. In: Brownson RC, Colditz GA, Proctor EK, editors. Dissemination and implementation research in health: translating science to practice. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2012. p. 437–58.

Samantha Smith, M.S.P.H, is a Research Associate at AcademyHealth, where she supports the work of the Translation and Dissemination Institute through her involvement with the Listening Project and Rapid Evidence Reviews Project.