The challenge of bridging the gap between researchers and policy makers: experiences of a Health Policy Research Group in engaging policy makers to support evidence informed policy making in Nigeria

Abstract Background Getting research into policy and practice (GRIPP) is a process of going from research evidence to decisions and action. To integrate research findings into the policy making process and to communicate research findings to policymakers is a key challenge world-wide. This paper reports the experiences of a research group in a Nigerian university when seeking to ‘do’ GRIPP, and the important features and challenges of this process within the African context. Methods In-depth interviews were conducted with nine purposively selected policy makers in various organizations and six researchers from the universities and research institute in a Nigerian who had been involved in 15 selected joint studies/projects with Health Policy Research Group (HPRG). The interviews explored their understanding and experience of the methods and processes used by the HPRG to generate research questions and research results; their involvement in the process and whether the methods were perceived as effective in relation to influencing policy and practice and factors that influenced the uptake of research results. Results The results are represented in a model with the four GRIPP strategies found: i) stakeholders’ request for evidence to support the use of certain strategies or to scale up health interventions; ii) policymakers and stakeholders seeking evidence from researchers; iii) involving stakeholders in designing research objectives and throughout the research process; and iv) facilitating policy maker-researcher engagement in finding best ways of using research findings to influence policy and practice and to actively disseminate research findings to relevant stakeholders and policymakers. The challenges to research utilization in health policy found were to address the capacity of policy makers to demand and to uptake research, the communication gap between researchers, donors and policymakers, the management of the political process of GRIPP, the lack of willingness of some policy makers to use research, the limited research funding and the resistance to change. Conclusions Country based Health Policy and Systems Research groups can influence domestic policy makers if appropriate strategies are employed. The model presented gives some direction to potential strategies for getting research into policy and practice in the health care sector in Nigeria and elsewhere.