A policy brief is a product that presents research evidence to support policy-makers and healthcare managers in their decision making. Policy briefs are more powerful when developed as a response to a direct request from a policy maker. It is important to build good relationships with policy makers to ensure your policy briefs will be useful. The ‘Supporting policy makers’ section provides more information on building relationships with policy makers.
In this section we use the term "policy brief" to cover both summaries of a single Cochrane review for policy makers and also, often more useful for policy-makers, a document presenting an overview of evidence and policy options for policy issues. In either case, it is helpful to consider the context in which the evidence will be used.
How to create a policy brief
Before starting the development of a policy brief, try to understand the needs and priorities of the target policy-makers. The format and contents should ideally be co-designed with the target users.
A policy brief should be written in the language of the target audience. Whilst they can be translated for other audiences, it is critical that they are contextualized to be relevant to the country and setting in which they are intended to be used. There will be many factors which affect a country’s policy making process. Take time to understand the context within which policy makers are making decisions.
There are databases of existing policy briefs such as the Health Systems Evidence Database. You can search to identify if any products have already been developed on the policy issue you wish to address. However, policy briefs should be tailored to the individual context and situation in which they will be used.
There are existing guides to help develop policy briefs:
For policymaker relevant summaries of single Cochrane reviews, Cochrane Norway has created a guide to writing a Support Summary. A SUPPORT Summary is a structured 6 to 8 page synthesis of the results from a systematic review tailored for policymakers in low-income countries.
For policy briefs presenting an overview of evidence and policy options for policy issues, there is the ‘SURE’ Guide for Preparing and Using Evidence-based Policy Briefs. This guide was produced in 2011 from the context of African Health Systems but the principles can be re-applied to other situations.
- The SUPPORT Tools for evidence-informed health Policymaking (STP) is a series of articles published in 2009. Paper number 13 provides guidance for policy briefs: ‘SUPPORT’ Preparing and using policy briefs to support evidence-informed policymaking.
Top tip! Once you have a draft of a policy brief, use the dissemination checklist to improve the draft.
Sharing your policy brief
For policymaker relevant summaries of single Cochrane reviews:
You can share these summaries via email directly with your existing policymaker contacts. The writing targeted emails webpage provides more information on how to write effective targeted emails.
Where the policy brief may be of interest to a wider audience, consider sharing using social media platforms. The social media page provides more information on how to use social media platforms effectively.
- To share your policy brief using the Cochrane Central social media accounts, including the Comms Network Digest contact Muriah Umoquit (firstname.lastname@example.org). Visit this page to learn more about the Cochrane central communications channels.
For policy briefs presenting an overview of evidence and policy options for policy issues:
- These types of policy briefs are usually tailored for a very specific audience. They can be shared via email or in person.
For all policy briefs, please submit them to the Central Cochrane team (email@example.com) so that they can be added to the Health Systems Evidence database.
Evaluating the effect of your policy brief
For policy briefs shared through social media, the reach can be assessed using the analytics functions of the social media platform.
Where a policy brief is shared with a specific audience, asking for some qualitative feedback about how useful the product was for them may be helpful. This will help develop the format and content for future policy briefs.
Measuring the uptake and use of a policy brief can be difficult, as the ultimate marker is whether or not the brief was taken into account or affected the policy making process. Talking to policy-makers, allowing the time for the decisions to have been made, may be useful.
Examples of Cochrane policy briefs
Policymaker relevant summaries of single Cochrane reviews:
- Cochrane Norway’s Support summaries
Policy briefs presenting an overview of evidence and policy options for policy issues:
Examples from SURE guides (including examples in French)
- Examples from the World Health Organization