Using narratives and storytelling to influence health policy-making: findings and implications from a mixed-methods systematic review

Fadlallah R1, Akl E1, El-Jardali F1, Bou Karroum L1
1American University of Beirut

Background: Narratives and storytelling can serve as promising knowledge translation tools to bridge the gap between research and policymaking. Contextually appropriate stories used in the policy environment can identify important policy issues, point to problems with existing policies, provide evidence that a program is working as intended, and assist stakeholders in thinking about the consequences of policy options. For instance, personal stories of breast cancer have been key in creating significant changes in health policies and legislative allocations.

Objective: Given the growing potential of using narratives to influence policymaking process, we conducted a systematic review of the evidence on the use of narratives to influence the health policymaking process.

Methods: We searched MEDLINE, Global Health Library, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Communication and Mass Media, Cochrane, and Google Scholar in February 2017. We included a range of study designs to account for the diverse literature on narratives. Eligible studies included narratives used as stand-alone or as part of multi-component interventions and targeting the population level (i.e. communities, policymakers, public health and health systems).The primary outcome of interest was the effect of narratives on different stages of the health policy-making process.

Results: The search yielded 12, 698 studies after removing duplicates. We followed standard systematic review methodology for study selection, data abstraction, and 'Risk of bias' assessment. We are currently in the data abstraction phase. We anticipate completing the review in the next two months. We will present the findings of the systematic review, including the implications for policy and research during the presentation.

Conclusion: Findings from this systematic review can inform the choices of those considering the use of narratives to influence health policy making. Specifically they can inform the design of the interventions that utilise narratives as a tool to influence health policies.

Patient or healthcare consumer involvement: Given that narratives are illustrations of patients and other people’s experiences in story-like formats, findings have implications for the role of patients and citizens in influencing health policymaking. Findings can also be relayed to examine role of narratives in influencing individual patient and clinical decision-making.