Program Overview

Decision makers presented with a policy option increasingly ask "What is the evidence for that?" A CHSRF policy synthesis should facilitate an answer on at least some of these occasions.

With guidance from decision-maker partners who are developing health-policy options, we are commissioning researchers to synthesize evidence and experience in a specified area of interest to decision makers. The Foundation will disseminate these peer-reviewed policy syntheses in English and French to both the co-sponsor partners and to the health services community more widely. Both researchers and policy makers can use the policy synthesis program.

What is a policy synthesis?

A policy synthesis draws together:

  • published literature;
  • 'grey' literature;
  • decision makers' experience; and
  • researchers' knowledge and experience

in order to make best practice recommendations for a specified area of policy development under active consideration by identified and interested decision maker(s).

A policy synthesis relies on the best available evidence, the practical experience of decision makers and the expert knowledge of researchers to provide evidence-based policy advice.

A final policy synthesis consists of three parts (in English and French):

  • a single page of bullet points documenting the main messages;
  • a three-page executive summary; and
  • a full report of no more than twenty-five pages plus appropriate appendices.

The steps in commissioning and completing a policy synthesis are:

  1. work with decision maker(s) to define areas where research may enlighten their current policy development, establish a timeline, and do a rough outline for the scope of the synthesis or syntheses;
  2. identify, through available databases and literature searches, researchers and decision makers active in the specified areas and hold a round-table discussion with them on the scope of each synthesis and determine their interest in using or doing the work;
  3. identify a selection panel of at least three people (foundation representative, co-sponsor representative and independent expert) to attend the round table, review subsequent proposals and recommend who to commission for the proposed work;
  4. negotiate funding, scope, approach and timing of the synthesis with recommended team(s) and initiate the work;
  5. Meet with researchers and decision-maker co-sponsors at mid-project for presentation of work-in-progress and exchange of ideas;
  6. receive draft synthesis (usually no longer than nine months after the start) and send for peer review and review by co-sponsors; and
  7. provide peer review and co-sponsor comments and receive revised final synthesis (usually within twelve months) which is disseminated to co-sponsors and more broadly.

The Selection Criteria for a Policy Synthesis Team (weighting in parentheses)

feasibility of proposed work: (30%)
- major activities identified and meet timelines 20%
- major budget items are identified and justified 10%
experience as (an) active researcher(s) in the specified area(s) of policy (20%)
previous experience in policy synthesis work: (30%)
- synthesis of published and grey literature with polling data and decision-maker experience 15%
- communication with and dissemination to policy audience 15%
track record in collaborative work (10%)
access to bilingual capacity (10%)

How to Use the Policy Synthesis Program

If you're a researcher contact us to express your interest in being available for the program. Tell us the areas in which you have experience and/or an active research program and we'll put you in our database. If your area becomes the focus of one of our commissioning exercises we'll invite you (at our expense) to the "kick-off" round table. At this event, decision makers and researchers, all active in the area like yourself, debate the scope of the synthesis and the issues it should address. If you wish, you may then submit a bid for the commission. Please note, however, that a foundation policy synthesis involves more than preparing a review article - it is an active exchange with decision makers who are seeking advice. The time lines are "real" (usually less than a year), the exchange is frequent, and the rewards are the potential impact or the lessons from the real world of policy-making. Our commissioned syntheses are fully- funded - we have pre-packaged the co-sponsorship.

If you're a policy maker charged with reforming some area of health services, perhaps you could use a synthesis of what the research and others' experience tells us about your options. The Foundation might be able to assist by acting as the broker and convenor, offering you some opportunities to brainstorm with researchers and other decision makers active in the area. At the end of the process you also get a high-quality peer-reviewed synthesis of the relevant research and experience to inform your final decisions. It will even be written up with the Foundation's '1:3:25' communication rule - one page of bullet points for the main messages, a three-page executive summary, and a 25-page report. Of course, the program is of no use to you if you have to have the decision by yesterday! From beginning to end, the policy synthesis process takes a year or even longer. But for less than you likely spend on consultants, you can get the expertise of Canada's health services research community. If you think you have an area that could profit from a foundation policy synthesis, get in touch with us and we'll discuss the possibilities.