Utilization of epidemiological research for the development of local public health policy in the Netherlands: A case study approach
The use of epidemiological research in local health policy development is claimed to be problematic. In three in-depth case studies in Dutch municipalities, we examined the interface between local epidemiological research and local health policy development, and the use of epidemiological reports, published as Local Health Messages (LHMs). The qualitative study design is based on an earlier developed theoretical framework of extended interaction. We collected data about 129 actors, via face-to-face semi-structured interviews, telephone interviews, internet questionnaires, observations, and organizational documents.Local health report development was characterized by multiple interactions between Regional Public Health Service epidemiologists, policy advisors, and local health officials. The LHMs as well as the policy memoranda can be considered as socially constructed. Preliminary interaction helped to manage the expectations of the local health officials and improved a specific type of use of LHMs in the policy process. However, we discovered a lack of use of the LHMs by specific groups of actors within the policy network, which could be explained by factors influencing the actors, such as personal belief systems and values, institutional interests, and contextual factors such as the design of the policy processes. We concluded that the necessity of interactions depends on the frames of references of the potential users and as a consequence it is difficult to give a single solution for improvement of epidemiological research utilization for local health policy. Different interaction mechanisms between researchers and policy actors can be active at the same time and may differ between municipalities. Therefore it becomes important to obtain insight in the policy process and tailor strategically promising ways of interaction.