December 11, 2023

Driving Change: The Crucial Role of Policy Relevance in Research Impact

Welcome back to the final installment of our series on research impact! In our previous blog posts, we discussed the significance, reach, tangibility, novelty, durability, collaboration, transferability and engagement as key characteristics of research impact.

Sean Newell

9: Policy Relevance

Today, we focus on a characteristic closely intertwined with societal change: “Policy Relevance.” We explore how research that informs and shapes policies can have a profound impact on addressing societal challenges and driving meaningful transformations. 

Definition and Explanation

Policy relevance, as a characteristic of research impact, emphasizes the alignment between research findings, recommendations, or interventions and policy needs. It involves conducting research that directly addresses pressing social, economic, or environmental issues, aiming to inform policy development, implementation, or evaluation. Policy-relevant research offers evidence-based insights and solutions that guide decision-making, contribute to policy improvements, and foster positive change at the systemic level. 

Policy Relevance vs Policy Impact:

While policy relevance is a vital aspect of research impact, it is essential to distinguish it from policy impact. Policy relevance refers to the direct applicability and alignment of research with policy needs, while policy impact focuses on the actual influence and effects of research on policy outcomes. Policy relevance sets the stage for policy impact, as it ensures the research is informed by real-world challenges and contributes to informed decision-making. 

Examples that illustrate the importance of policy relevance in research impact: 

1. Health Policy Relevance: Research that examines the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of healthcare interventions can directly inform health policies. For instance, a study evaluating the impact of community-based mental health programs can provide policymakers with evidence to support the allocation of resources and the development of policies that prioritize mental health services. 

2. Environmental Policy Relevance: Research on the impact of climate change or the effectiveness of sustainable practices can inform environmental policies and regulations. For example, studies on the economic benefits of renewable energy sources can guide policymakers in crafting policies that promote clean energy adoption and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. 

3. Education Policy Relevance: Research on educational equity, school improvement strategies, or the effectiveness of education policies can shape education policies and practices. For instance, studies on the impact of early childhood education programs can provide evidence to support policies that prioritize early education investments and interventions. 

4. Economic Policy Relevance: Research on economic inequalities, employment dynamics, or innovative economic models can influence economic policies. For example, studies on the impact of minimum wage increases on income distribution can inform policymakers in their decision-making regarding labour market regulations and policies. 

Challenges and Considerations

Navigating policy relevance in research impact comes with challenges: 

  • Balancing scientific rigor and policy timeliness to provide evidence that is both rigorous and readily applicable to policy contexts. 
  • Building effective communication channels between researchers and policymakers to ensure research findings reach the right audiences and influence policy discussions. 
  • Addressing potential conflicts of interest or biases that may influence the policy relevance of research. 

Enhancing Policy Relevance

To enhance the policy relevance of research impact, researchers and funders can consider the following strategies: 

  • Engage policymakers and stakeholders from the early stages of research to identify key policy needs and ensure research addresses pressing challenges. 
  • Communicate research findings in accessible language and formats that are easily digestible for policymakers and non-academic audiences. 
  • Establish collaborations between researchers and policymakers to facilitate knowledge exchange, promote mutual understanding, and foster evidence-informed policy development. 


Policy relevance plays a crucial role in research impact, as it ensures research findings directly address societal challenges and inform policy decisions. By conducting research that is aligned with policy needs and effectively engaging with policymakers, we can drive positive change, address pressing issues, and promote evidence-informed policies.  

Other blog posts in this series

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