No simple formula for research intervention impact


This series showcases the contributions of Sax Institute researchers to papers published in peer-reviewed literature.

What was studied?

A team including Sax Institute researchers investigated Australian researchers’ perceptions about the factors that influenced whether their own intervention research studies had policy and practice impacts.

The chief investigators from 50 intervention research studies funded by the NHMRC between 2003 and 2007 were interviewed to determine if their study had achieved policy and practice impacts, and how or why such impact had occurred. They were also asked about their approach to disseminating their research.

What are the key findings?

The study found that if research had statistically significant intervention effects and if it had been published in a peer-reviewed journal, it was more likely to have policy and practice impacts. The researchers summed up their key findings as:

  • Studies with statistically significant intervention effects are more likely to have impacts
  • If findings are consistent with, or add to existing evidence, the study is more likely to have policy and practice impacts
  • Peer-reviewed journal publication on intervention effects appears to be necessary, but not sufficient, to produce policy and practice impacts
  • Study findings and researchers’ perceptions of their implications determine the extent to which researchers engage in ‘active’ dissemination strategies
  • The accumulation and interaction of active dissemination efforts over time influences whether a study has policy and practice impacts
  • Studies are more likely to have impact if any translational outputs that are produced are readily accessible to the target audience and available through a stable delivery mechanism.
  • Studies are more likely to have impacts when the researchers involved are experienced and engage with these contextual factors as part of the dissemination process.

What was the conclusion?

The study concluded that there was no simple formula to determine which intervention studies should be funded in order to achieve optimal policy and practice impacts.

While it found that sophisticated approaches to intervention development, dissemination actions and translational efforts were widespread among experienced researchers, it found it was the links between the intervention results, further dissemination action by the researcher and a variety of post-research contextual factors that ultimately determined whether a study had policy and practice impacts.

What are the implications?

The findings suggest that research use in policy and practice is likely to be enhanced by funding research that replicates and advances the evidence base for existing interventions, or supports the existing lines of research enquiry initiated by individual researcher or teams, and their ongoing dissemination efforts.

However, the study authors warned that such strategies should not come at the expense of innovative research that, while unlikely to achieve immediate impacts on policy and practice, could help begin new lines of research enquiry.

The paper

Newson R, King L, Rychetnik L, Bauman AE, Redman S, Milat AJ,  Schroeder J, Cohen G, Chapman S. A mixed methods study of the factors that influence whether intervention research has policy and practice impacts: perceptions of Australian researchers. BMJ Open 2015:5: e008153. Doi.10.1136/bmjopen-2015-008153.