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Toolkit for Academic Policy Impact

This toolkit is designed to help academics improve their ability to drive policy impacts from their work.


Toolkit Sections (on this page):

1. Research in the Policy Context

1. Understand Research in the Policy Context

These two videos from the non-profit Evidence for Democracy will help you understand how research evidence is currently used in policy making in Canada. Each resource presents a different approach to the matter.

Video length: 56 minutes

2. Plan for Policy Impact

2. Plan for Policy Impact

Preparing a communication strategy helps researchers reach their policy impact goals by ensuring that their findings and recommendations are heard by the right audience, at the right time, and in the right way.

Policy Advocacy

Policy advocacy is the practice of using evidence and research to influence public policy. Using policy advocacy, public policy goals can be achieved with tools like assessing existing obstacles, assessing proposed solutions, and setting realistic advocacy objectives. 

Setting up goals is the first step to creating a strong knowledge mobilization plan.


You need to set both:

  • big picture goals and

  • specific, immediate objectives.

Deciding on your ultimate goals can be easier, since they are related to the topic of your research and your personal values. However, deciding on the specific objectives can be more challenging.

Policy Advocacy
Policy Audience

Policy Audience 

Policy audiences are varied and different tools are more efficient in reaching some than others. The following resources help you understand your policy audience better, so you can plan your efforts, strategies, and message to move your proposal forward. 

Knowing your audience is one of the most important steps in getting your message out. Whether you are targeting members of the wider public, specific decision makers, or opinion leaders that may spread your message, it is important to tailor your message and channels to reach them more effectively and get your arguments across.


So, once you set your goals, stop, think, and research your audience. 

Policy Messaging

Once you have your goals and your audience analysis, you need to set your message, which is the core idea or argument that you are trying to communicate. This is your  key message.

Your message will be unique to your goals and audience, even if talking about the same research.


It should also be easy to understand, memorable, and relevant to your audience.

Policy Messaging
Policy Window

Policy Window

A policy window is an opening in the policy process in which there is possibility for the proposal and adoption of new policies. It is an opportunity to push a proposal.

The policy window can be predictable, such as when the Federal Budget is being discussed, or unpredictable, such as when a new problem emerges or there is a change in the topics being discussed. 

Policy Brief

A policy brief is a communication tool used to present research and recommendations to a non-specialized audience. It is a stand-alone document that focuses on one topic and explains it in a concise manner.

Policy briefs should present research findings in plain language for the readers, whilst linking research to policy initiatives and advocacy.

Policy Brief

Policy Papers  

Policy papers are the main communication tool used by policy specialists to share their findings with the wider public policy community.


Written for a non-academic audience, policy papers critically analyze a real-word problem, discuss the benefits and drawbacks of available policy options, and propose a particular solution.

Policy papers should:

  • be written in a persuasive tone,

  • act as tools for policy decision-making, and

  • include calls to action for the target audience.

Policy Papers
3. Engage with the Media

3. Engage with the Media

Working with Journalists

Scientists and Journalists: Two Sides of the Communication Coin - Compass

  • Tips for how academics can work with science journalists to get the message they want to get across, right.

Key takeaways:

  • It is important that the researcher knows who they are working with, as well as the challenges journalists face when writing research findings into a compelling story.

  • Academics need to do prior work on defining the message they want to convey and what are the key points, to avoid the fallacy of telling everything you know at once. 


Research Meets Policy: Getting the Media Involved - Simon Fraser University 

  • The media can be an effective way of reaching both policy makers and a broader audience. This guide covers how to decide what media to use in your communication efforts and how to approach it. 


Working with Journalists - American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) 

  • Guide on how media can help scientists achieve different goals, from reaching a wider audience to creating awareness on a specific issue.


Tips from Science Journalists - American Association for the Advancement of Science 

  • Six science reporters and editors talk about their experiences working with scientists and provide tips on how researchers can help journalists and get their message across. 


Getting Out There: Connecting with Journalists at Scientific Conferences - Compass 

  • Networking with journalists can be a challenge for many. Author Sarah Sunu offers five tips to make networking easier:

  1. Know what you want to talk about

  2. Know who you want to talk to

  3. Know how to reach them

  4. Know your schedule (and the journalist’s)

  5. Know who else they should talk to


Journalist with microphone working on city street
Journalists holding out microphones.

Giving Interviews

Say Yes to Media Interviews - Informed Opinions 

  • Tips for conducting interviews, including:

    • How to prepare for interviews WITH different media

    • How to express yourself

    • How to ensure your message is clear.

  • Informed Opinions provides content in both video and text formats.


If a Reporter Calls - Duke University 

  • Suggestions from Duke University on what to do when you are approached for an interview by a journalist. Includes specific preparations for radio interviews. 


Media Interviews - American Association for the Advancement of Science 

  • Tips on how to:

    • Schedule and prepare for an interview

    • Conduct yourself during an interview 

    • Answer journalists' questions

  • Includes specific suggestions for radio and TV interviews

Journalists holding out microphones
Close-up of hands typing.

Writing Op-Eds

An op-ed can be a good tool to reach policy makers and get ideas into the public discourse. However, making sure an argument is clear while staying within the word limit can be challenging. The following resources provide general tips on writing op-eds, structure, and examples.


Op-Ed - Broad Research Communication Lab 

  • Guide that explains the structure of op-eds, provides suggestions for tone and word choice, and outlines four questions that scientists should ask themselves before writing an op-ed


The Op-Ed Project 


Write compelling commentary - Informed Opinions 

  • Login to Informed Opinions' Learning Hub to:

    • Understand the elements of an op-ed

    • Watch a video on the five-step approach to writing an op-ed, and

    • Access several examples of engaging openings from existing op-eds.

Note: Users need a free account with Informed Opinions to access this content.


Writing an Op-Ed - American Association for the Advancement of Science 

  • A list of good op-ed examples, already selected by AAAS. 

Close-up of hands typing
4. Speak to Your Target Audience

4. Speak to Your Target Audience 

Plain Language is a reader-centred approach to communication in which you should focus on ensuring that ideas are communicated for non-expert audiences. Plain language writing is more approachable and reaches a broader public that may not have the skills and knowledge to read a peer-reviewed text. Plain language involves several aspects of writing, including wording, structure, and design. 


Deciding on the social media channels you will use for your communication plan can be complicated. There are many different media to choose from, each with their own benefits and challenges. The following resources can help you decide what media to choose and how to approach them. 

Funding for this toolkit was provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Suggested citation (APA):

Toolkit for Academic Policy Impact. (2023). Pol Comm Tech Lab.

Boîte à outils pour l'impact politique universitaire
 (2023). Labo Pol Comm Tech. 

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