The ways in which research informs and influences policy has been an area of much investigation. Rarely, if ever, will one sole research product be found to influence definitive policy change. In order to measure the influence or impact of a research project, consideration needs to be given to a broad range of theories and the dynamic interplay between research and policy. These theories emphasise multiple research uses, interactive mechanisms of dissemination built around relationships, and dynamic policy processes. Thus any measure of ‘impact’ cannot be limited to examples of direct, instrumental use of research within a single decision point. Nor can it rely on the traditional mechanisms of measuring academic success, such as academic citations.
To date, a systematic method for evaluating the extent of influence of the IDRS/EDRS has not been applied. Whilst mechanistic guides have been developed to help health researchers describe policy influence, systematic approaches to assessment of policy influence are rarely seen in the alcohol and other drug literature.
The aim of this research was to systematically examine the extent to which the IDRS and EDRS monitoring systems have informed and influenced Australian drug policy grounded in the theories of research utilisation, iterative policy processes and the role of interactions between researchers and decision-makers.
A case study was undertaken, analysing policy-relevant sources to ascertain the extent of influence. Three data sources were used to ascertain policy influence: policy documents; policy processes and media mentions. Systematic searches and analyses of these sources were undertaken.
The review of policy documents revealed that the IDRS/EDRS have been used to inform policy development. IDRS/EDRS data are drawn upon by government agencies as well as community and research organisations. We located a range of parliamentary inquiries in which IDRS/EDRS data had been mentioned, demonstrating engagement with policy processes. While media mentions were relatively few, coverage of the IDRS/EDRS contributes alternative frames of reference, adding in a small way to public discussion of drug issues.
Ritter, A., Lancaster, K. (2013). Measuring research influence on drug policy: A case example of two epidemiological monitoring systems. International Journal of Drug Policy, 24(1), 30-37. (See link below).
Ritter, A., & Lancaster, K. (2010, October). Influencing drug policy: an examination of the role of the IDRS and EDRS. Presented to the National Drug Trends Conference, Sydney.
The findings of this case study have implications for the ways in which researchers conceptualise the role of evidence in policy making and the impact of research upon deliberations and policy change. This study demonstrates a systematic method that other researchers can use to evaluate the policy impact of their own work (which is, at present, rarely undertaken in the alcohol and other drug field).