AcademyHealth recently hosted the fall 2022 Health Policy Orientation, which goes behind the scenes of decision-making in Washington in October. Participants included clinicians, Fellows, public health practitioners, and academic researchers. Attendees gained insight into a wide range of policy-related issues, including:

1) the health policy landscape at all levels of the government,

2) current and leading challenges in the U.S. health care system and policy arena,

3) priority areas in Health Services Research,

4) the role of the legal system in regulating health care delivery and health care, and

5) the importance of evidence-based policymaking.

Two sessions, “How Policymaking Really Works” and “How to Communicate with Policy Leaders,” demystified advocacy and lobbying differences. While advocacy and lobbying could influence policy, strict legal and IRS definitions differentiate one method of policy engagement from the other. Being able to distinguish the two could guide researchers with what approach to employ to educate decision-makers. Josh Caplan, Director of Advocacy and Governmental Affairs, and Lauren Adams, Senior Director of Communications & Marketing at AcademyHealth, discussed strategies and tools for successful communication with policymakers. 

Academic institutions, funders, and decision-makers emphasize the importance of evidence translation into practice or policy; however, these activities are less incentivized and often considered secondary to the core responsibilities of academic researchers, such as teaching and conducting research. How Faculty perceive institutional support for and activities around activism, advocacy, and lobbying contribute to their willingness and ability to engage in research translation for social impact. Additionally, the policymaking process is complex and comprised of numerous actors with time and schedule constraints and opposing policy priorities. Communicating and engaging meaningfully with policymakers is a nebulous and unchartered area for many researchers.

Successful communication depends on the context, situation, and audience. Several factors determine lawmakers’ responsiveness to information, such as the legislative session, the part-time or full-time work status of staffers, lobbying rules, and whether the targeted policymaker influences the local, state, or federal government level. Some researchers might be unfamiliar with how to identify a target audience. Leveraging resources such as Google news searches, recent press releases, videos of speaking engagements or recent interviews, and social media channels could guide the research process. Other options include conducting surveys, interviews, and focus groups with key informants. ProPublica’s Represent Project is an interactive database that tracks lawmakers and recent congressional actions. 

Once researchers select the appropriate audience and understand their key influencers, it is vital to have an explicit goal for policy engagement and a method of interaction. In order of importance, policymakers’ preferred contact method is email, in-person or phone, mail, and social media. Successful communication with policymakers entails crafting clear, persuasive messages that convey meaningful research information. Adding a “call to action” and acknowledging potential limitations and uncertainties could be impactful. The panelists recommended delivering the message based on an inverted abstract or pyramid model, where researchers first report the most critical information, such as the conclusion and policy impact, describe the results and methodology, and then provide background information. The inverted pyramid method could improve the audience’s comprehension of technical research information, and it is suitable for capturing the attention of policymakers with time constraints.

AcademyHealth’s Communicating for Impact online course is a valuable tool designed to support mid-career researchers in translating research into practice and policy. Participants gain practical strategic communication and information dissemination skills through live calls with leading experts, toolkits, real-world scenarios, and practice crafting MadLibs messages for decision-makers based on the inverted abstract method. Please complete our interest form to receive updates on additional offerings of the course and other educational opportunities here.

Interested in attending the Health Policy Orientation? Fill out this brief form to receive updates on future offerings here.

Elsie Essien

Elsie Essien, M.P.H.

Doctoral Student - University of Maryland School of Public Health

Elsie Essien, M.P.H. is a doctoral student at the University of Maryland and the winner of an AcademyHealth Al... Read Bio

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