Health policy is embedded in a political process. Untangling the complex forces underpinning policy change is critical to making a difference. This is the field of health policy analysis.
There is a surprisingly small body of research on these issues, particularly in low and middle income countries. Twenty-five leading health policy analysts from continents around the world - Asia and the Pacific, Africa, Middle East, North and South America, Europe - met in London to take stock of the field and discuss how they could strengthen and take it forward.
All participants perceive their role as supporting policy development and implementation by integrating findings from policy analysis and scientific research into policy deliberations. While donors and programme managers are most likely to be interested in the development of tools to test political feasibility, all agreed that these need to be based on stronger analysis of past and current experience. In particular better use could be made of existing research through synthesis guided by sound theoretical and analytical frameworks; future research needs to be more theoretically grounded; and that much could be gained by more systematic comparative analysis.
The group felt that there were some clear gaps in existing approaches to health policy analysis. For example, there is little empirical work investigating the nature and exercise of power - a central concept in this field. There is also a need for researchers to be more reflective about their own positions in conducting and interpreting research.
Participants are now turning their attention to building a critical mass of networked researchers in order to develop the field and raise its profile. A number of virtual/email and face-to-face initiatives are being planned as a result of the workshop and a special issue of the journal Health Policy and Planning will carry a series of reviews, case studies, and methodological papers.
Better networking among policy analysts is seen as a priority to share insights, experience and expertise on specific issues. Networking will facilitate efforts to deepen capacity for rigorous policy research and to establish larger scale efforts to develop bodies of coordinated, comparative work across research groups. This applies to organisations worldwide – and in the first instance a meeting to examine how to conduct syntheses of existing health policy analysis work is being planned.