PHIRN: Population Health Improvement Research Network

Method for Synthesizing Knowledge about Public Policies

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Public Health Agency of Canada through funding for the National Collaborating Centre for Healthy Public Policy (NCCHPP) 2010


Available online PDF [65p.] at:


The objective of this document is to propose a knowledge synthesis method that is applicable to public policies and takes into account not only data linked to their effectiveness, but also data on issues related to their implementation, with the aim of identifying the policies that are most likely to succeed in the specific context in which their implementation is being considered.

The proposed knowledge synthesis method draws inspiration from political science, policy analysis, literature on evidence-informed decision making in public health, literature on evaluation, and theoretical developments related to deliberative processes. Having integrated these various foundational elements, the proposed methodological approach:

  • applies an analytical framework that takes into consideration not only the effectiveness of public policies, but also their unintended effects, their effects on equity, and the issues related to their implementation (cost, feasibility, and acceptability); and
  •  considers a range of quantitative and qualitative data from scientific and non-scientific sources.

Our knowledge synthesis method includes four steps.

  • The first involves compiling an inventory of public policies that could address the targeted health problem, and choosing the policy on which the knowledge synthesis will focus.
  • The second step is devoted to making explicit the intervention logic (logic model), that is, the sequence of effects expected to link the policy under study to the targeted problem.
  • The third step, carried out through means of a literature review, involves synthesizing data on the effects of this policy in contexts in which it has already been implemented (effectiveness, unintended effects, effects related to equity) and on the issues related to its implementation (cost, feasibility, acceptability).
  • Finally, the fourth step aims at enriching and contextualizing the data drawn from the literature, through deliberative processes that bring together actors concerned by the targeted health problem and working within the context in which implementation of the policy is being considered.

The aim of the deliberative processes is to have these actors discuss the data drawn from the literature, enrich analysis of the data with their own knowledge, and assess the extent to which the data apply to their own context.

To illustrate the use of this method and to verify its relevance, our team tested it by applying it to a public policy option aimed at addressing obesity. Because of this case study, some of the methodological references used refer to obesity; nevertheless, they are equally applicable to public policies concerned with other issues….”



1 Framework for Analyzing Public Policies
1.1 Dimensions Related to the Effects of Public Policies
1.1.1 Effectiveness
1.1.2 Unintended Effects
1.1.3 Equity
1.2 Dimensions Related to the Implementation of Public Policies

1.2.1 Cost

1.2.2 Feasibility

1.2.3  Acceptability

1.3 Relationships Between the Six Dimensions for Analysis

2 Types and Sources of Data to be Considered

3 Knowledge Synthesis Method

3.1 Inventory of Policies and Selection of the Subject of the Knowledge Synthesis

3.1.1 Exploration of the Grey Literature

3.1.2 Survey of the Scientific Literature

3.1.3 Selection of the Subject of the Knowledge Synthesis

3.2 Explication of the Intervention Logic of the Public Policy Being Studied

3.3 Synthesis of Data Drawn From the Literature

3.3.1 Documentary Search

3.3.2 Appraisal of the Quality of Data

3.3.3 Data Perusal and Extraction

3.3.4 Synthesis of Data Drawn From the Literature

3.4 Enrichment and Contextualization of Data / Deliberative Processes

3.5 Synthesis  Integration of the Different Types of Knowledge Gathered


Appendix  1: List of Selected Websites of Relevance to Public Policy and Health

Appendix 2:  List of Databases Proposed by the Cochrane Health Promotion and Public Health Field


Source: PAHO/WHO

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 21 February 2012 23:40 )