Lost in Translation? The relationship between homelessness research and policy in Wellington, New Zealand

Kate Amore – BMedSci 2007

This thesis aims to investigate the ways in which research is utilised in the emerging decentralised, participatory policy-making context in New Zealand. An in-depth study of a particular research-policy relationship is presented, exploring the impact of a public health research project on homelessness in Wellington upon the development of homelessness policy by a local inter-sectoral network. The translation of evidence into policy is a neglected area of research in public health, particularly in regard to research audiences outside the health sector.

Both sides of this particular research-policy nexus are examined. On the research side, the findings of the original public health study are described, in order to provide a backdrop of the ideas that entered the policy process. These findings include a typology of pathways into homelessness and a public health framework for a comprehensive and integrated set of responses to homelessness.

The utilisation of this research by its intended audience was investigated through participant observation, which allowed a detailed analysis of the policy-making process in context, the many tacit effects of research on policy-making, and the role of the researcher within this process.

The research was found to be used in five distinct ways: to shape the structure of the group; conceptually; for legitimation; as a reference point; and as a networking tool. Strong researcher-user relationships enhanced ownership and use of the research; individual interests and structural constraints shaped its translation into policy.

Language plays a key role in framing policy debate and responses. Conflicting frames of reference create inertia and hamper effective collaboration. Researchers have an important role in generating a common language for policy dialogue. Strong, ongoing relationships with policy-makers can enhance the use of evidence, improve the policy process, and extend the reach of research to new and diverse audiences.

Read Kate’s Thesis