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Table 2 Key themes, representative quotations from policy makers, and actionable steps to generate policy-relevant research

From: Strengthening partnerships between substance use researchers and policy makers to take advantage of a window of opportunity

Key Themes

Representative Quotations

Actionable Steps

Engagement with Evidence and Evidence Producers

“I don’t hear about a particular research study until it’s published and I don’t have any opportunity to provide any kind of input into it. So, I think it’s kind of [important to shift] … to building more upfront engagement.”

Involve policy makers, community members, and other stakeholders early in the research process.

Cultivate informal networks including researchers, policy makers and other stakeholders.

Usability of Research

“I always think cost effectiveness and return on investment is gonna’ be the thing that sort of turns the tide, and sometimes it is. But, what I’ve been surprised at is how powerful actually qualitative and anecdotal information is in policymaking. So, I think as important as cost effectiveness and ROI stuff is, it has to be accompanied with other kinds of evidence or frankly stories to humanize the issue.”

Formulate research questions and study designs to answer the strategic goals of payers, health system leaders and providers, audiences that the study is intended to inform.

Advance the use of qualitative research methods to promote the adoption of evidence-based policies for SUD.

Balancing Rigor and Relevance

“For the decisions I need to make, it actually needs to be a bit less rigorous, because more rigor equals more time. I don’t need the exact answer out there to three decimal points. I need to be directionally correct.”

Use study designs that prioritize timeliness to respond to the urgency of public health crises, such as the opioid use epidemic.

With key informants, systematically test alternative phrasing for research terminology and jargon.

Communication of Evidence and Analysis

“But the other thing I think researchers need to be ready to do is back it up, meaning testify if necessary. You never get academics to participate in any of the hearings or drafting of legislation. And I think if you’re a researcher and you care enough about this, you need to stop seeing yourself as so kind of above it all.”

Promote researcher involvement in policy discussions. Communicate how research was conducted, how it applies to the policy maker’s organization or locality, and how it can be implemented.

Within academic institutions, incorporate policy impact as an evaluation /promotion criteria.