Turning health research into policy

Persisting high rates of death and illness in many developing countries have brought a renewed focus on the importance of research evidence in making health policy. However, those striving to support evidence-informed health policies and systems consider that such evidence may not be valued by policymakers and stakeholders; not be relevant to the policy issues they face; or not be easy to use. To overcome this, the World Health Organization and others have nurtured “knowledge translation platforms”. These platforms seek to convert research knowledge into policies and programs to bolster the effectiveness of health systems. Are these knowledge translation platforms delivering what they have set out to do? And what can we learn from them?

The research

The team will study 11 knowledge translation (KT) platforms based in Africa. Site evaluations will enable the researchers to better understand the processes and variables that facilitate KT for improved health. The specific objectives of this project are to:

  • describe the activities and outputs of each KT platform;
  • conduct formative evaluations of the priority-setting processes, packaged evidence summaries, and deliberative dialogues organized by each KT platform;
  • conduct outcome evaluations with a focus on the KT platforms’ anticipated outcomes (e.g., that health research evidence about high-priority policy issues is made available);
  • Conduct evaluations of the KT platforms, focusing on their anticipated impact (e.g., that health systems’ policymaking processes take into account health research evidence);
  • build the capacity of Canadian and African graduate students by providing them with a unique training experience in the area of knowledge translation for policy; and
  • strengthen the capacity of African researchers to conduct evaluations of KT platforms.

Expected outcomes

The project aims to:

  • create a database, publish scientific papers, write project summaries to inform the public and produce a “how to” guide for evaluating knowledge-translation platforms;
  • create guidelines to support evidence-informed health policies and systems;
  • make significant contributions to knowledge translation research;
  • train Canadian and African graduate students in the field of knowledge translation; and
  • strengthen health systems and ensure the safe, efficient, and equitable delivery of effective services and technologies in Africa and other developing countries.

Lead Researchers

Nelson Sewankambo

IDRC Research Chair in Evidence-Informed Health Policies and Systems Makerere University, Uganda 

Nelson K. Sewankambo is the Principal of the College of Health Sciences at Makerere University. For 11 years, he was Dean of the university’s School of Medicine, the precursor to the college. A longtime advocate of advancing health research and policy in Africa, Sewankambo led the effort that established the REACH Policy Initiative, an East African institutional brokerage mechanism linking research to health policy and action. His 25-year contribution to HIV/AIDS and health research in Africa has been acknowledged by many awards.

Sewankambo is Vice-President of the ACCORDIA Global Health Foundation, Chair of the Initiative to Strengthen Health Research in Africa, and a member of the Global Forum for Health Research and the Global Foundations for Health Research. He has participated in many international health initiatives and is a frequent contributor to international publications, including The Lancet, WHO Bulletin, and African Health Sciences.

John Lavis

Canada Research Chair in Knowledge Transfer and Exchange McMaster University, Canada 

John Lavis, the Canada Research Chair in Knowledge Transfer and Exchange, is an Associate Professor in both the Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics and the Department of Political Science at McMaster University. He is also the Director of the McMaster Health Forum and a Member of the Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis.

His principal research interests include knowledge transfer and exchange in public policy-making environments and the politics of healthcare systems. Lavis wrote the report that underpins the chapter on “linking research to action” in the World Report on Knowledge for Better Health(WHO, 2004). He is President of the Pan American Health Organization Advisory Committee on Health Research and a member of numerous science and policy committees and research groups, including the World Health Organization (WHO) Advisory Committee on Health Research and the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee. Lavis is co-editor of the Policy Briefs series co-published by the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies and the WHO-sponsored Health Evidence Network.

John Lavis holds an MD from Queen’s University, a MSc from the London School of Economics, and a PhD from Harvard University.


Project ID


Project status


Start Date

Monday, June 1, 2009

End Date

Sunday, June 1, 2014


60 months

IDRC Officer

David O'Brien

Total funding

CA$ 1,000,000


North of Sahara, South of Sahara, Canada, Uganda


International Research Chairs Initiative

Project Leader

Nelson Sewankambo


Makerere University

Institution Country


Institution Website


Project Leader

John Lavis


McMaster University

Institution Country


Institution Website