BACKGROUND: Generation of public health impact from research is challenging. Research of similar quality often has differential uptake and there is considerable lag time between initiation and uptake of research. Improving understanding of how research impact can be achieved may identify areas stakeholders could target.
METHODS: This work uses meta-ethnography to synthesize 21 case studies exploring how researchers have generated public health policy impact.
RESULTS: Eight constructs were identified: expertise; motivation; practical solutions to important problems; support structure and funding; collaboration; wide dissemination and use of media to contribute ideas to the wider narrative; understanding the policy realm; and models of impact. The constructs were combined in a lines-of-argument synthesis, producing a model that seeks to illustrate the diffuse, complex and dynamic nature of the process of generating impact from research.
CONCLUSION: Achieving research impact involves seeking to shape wider debates, building relationships with policy makers, becoming a trusted collaborator and being available to provide relevant and practical solutions to questions of concern to policy makers at the appropriate time.