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By Katherine Smith (auth.)

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This shift is being accompanied by growing efforts among UK research-funding councils and other major funders to promote academic strategies for achieving ‘research impact’ (see Smith, Ward and House 2011). Current UK policy and academic strategies are therefore continuing to strongly promote the production of policy-relevant research and the use of this research within decision-making processes. In many ways, this ongoing support for linking research and policy appears to mark a stark contrast with the decline in social science funding that followed the disillusionment with earlier North American and British attempts to improve research utilisation (see above; Conway 1990; Gagnon 1990).

G. Erhel and Zajdela 2004). A rather more sophisticated theoretical account of the way in which past decisions can shape current policy emerged from policy studies over the past two decades. ‘Historical institutionalism’ suggests that policy decisions are significantly shaped by the historically constructed institutions and policy procedures within which they are embedded (Immergut 1998; March and Olsen 1984). As Immergut explains, individual agency is still acknowledged but, it is argued, decisions can only be understood by considering the context within which actors are situated: This does not mean that institutions radically resocialise citizens in a revived version of social determinism or that norms dictate to actors what should be their behaviour.

These theories can be thought of as falling into approximately two groups. The first, emphasise the role of politics and ideologies in shaping policies and the second, focus on the way in which institutional and organisational processes limit innovation. Although not always The Fluctuating Fortunes of ‘Evidence-Based Policy’ 25 engaging with questions about the role of research in policy, these theories make some important claims about the constrained nature of policymaking and they have been employed in studies seeking to explain the failure of public health research to achieve policy change.

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