Bridging research and policy in aging: Issues of structure, process and
I Older adults I Health care policy I Aging policy
he ‘bridge’ between research and policy has long been interest and use to provincial/territorial decision makers.
T an interest of both the research and policy
communities in aging. A joint special issue of the
Canadian Journal on Aging and Canadian Public Policy, that I
On the ‘policy’ side of the bridge, there is increasing
interest and activity as well. To date, three provinces have
joined as partners in the Evidence on Tap pilot project:
edited in 1997 with the late Ellen M. Gee, identified several Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Term Care, the
key elements in this ‘bridging’ process: the communication of Saskatchewan Ministry of Health, and the New Brunswick
research in order for it to have an impact, and for structures Department of Health. Already, such topics as “service
and processes to be in place in order to facilitate the bridging delivery issues in rural areas” have been addressed.
of policy and research. Increasingly, “policy-makers are In addition, there are initiatives focused specifically on
recognizing the need for evidence-based decisions, and in the the bridge between research and policy. Some of these are
process, reinforcing the power of the paradigm of research as specific to aging, while others have a broader focus,
the basis for knowledge” (Gee, 1997, p. v). This statement is occasionally aimed at issues of aging. The Seniors Health
more true today than when Gee wrote a decade ago, and Research Transfer Network (SHRTN, 2009) is an Ontario-
certainly the structures and processes are more prevalent now. wide knowledge exchange network that links caregivers with
researchers and policy makers who work together to improve
Structures and processes to bridge heath care for seniors.
the research-policy gap More broadly, both public and private sector initiatives
On the ‘research’ side of the bridge, research funding organi- are designed to ‘bridge’ research and policy on aging. For
zations almost routinely require specific evidence of the example, the Change Foundation (2008) is a policy think
potential (and plan) for ‘knowledge translation’ as part of tank that aims to promote, support and improve health and
research projects now. For example, in recognition of its the delivery of health care in Ontario; it is currently focused
mandate to “excel, according to internationally accepted on supporting health care integration through evidence-
standards of scientific excellence in the creation of new based policy and research.
knowledge and its translation into improved health for The Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP) works
Canadians, more effective health services and products and a to inform Canadian governments and the public about
strengthened Canadian health care system …,” the Canadian important public policy issues and to provide food for thought
Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has placed considerable and best evidence to improve policies. The IRPP (2009) has
emphasis on the application of findings from research launched a multi-year research program, Faces of Aging, to
(CIHR, 2008a). CIHR’s innovative funding program, examine the broad social and economic policy challenges
Partnerships for Health System Improvement (PHSI) raised by Canada’s aging population, including the role of the
supports teams of researchers and decision makers to public and private (for-profit and not-for-profit) sectors in
conduct applied health systems and services research home-care and long-term care; governments’ role in
responsive to needs of health care decision makers. This supporting informal caregiving and regulating private services;
program requires at least one decision maker on the project and lessons from provincial innovations and best practices.
right from the start (CIHR, 2008b). All of these examples demonstrate the increasing
Because we deliver services at the level of provinces in recognition of the importance of “evidence” in decision-
Canada, we have particular challenges for effective research – making, as well as the structures and processes that have been
policy interface across provinces. CIHR (with leadership from designed to link evidence with policy and practice.
its Institute of Health Services and Policy Research) is