Reaching Impact, the key learnings

What Can We Learn About Effective Knowledge Utilization?
Between February and June 2023, ZonMw conducted three impact assessments on various programs: Efficiency Research, JPI HDHL, and COVID-19. These assessments have yielded valuable insights into the level of knowledge utilization of projects funded by ZonMw and the barriers and facilitating factors involved.

ZIAF Approach

Each assessment employed the ZonMw Impact Assessment Framework (ZIAF). The ZIAF outlines four productive interactions - collaboration with relevant stakeholders, co-funding, delivery of relevant knowledge products, and targeted dissemination and implementation activities - as the pathway to effective knowledge utilization in policy, practice, education, and further research. Additionally, all assessments included interviews with project leaders as the primary methodology.

Key Findings from the Impact Assessments

Health care efficiency research

The analysis revealed that collaboration with relevant stakeholders was crucial for effective knowledge utilization. Early engagement of partners, in particular, contributed to increased knowledge utilization. Knowledge dissemination primarily occurred through scientific articles. Applying knowledge in policymaking and healthcare systems often proved to be an ongoing process, frequently due to obstacles during the implementation of interventions in practice. Successful implementation often requires time, financial resources, and expertise that are not always readily available within a research project. Additional funding for implementation is sometimes essential to promote this process.

The Joint Programming Initiative - A Healthy Diet for a Healthy Life (JPI HDHL)

Projects funded by JPI HDHL generally achieved a high level of short-term scientific impact due to the high quality of research, specialized consortia with unique knowledge, and a varied use of different communication means to present and disseminate project results. Productive collaboration among specialized partners also resulted in high-quality research. Furthermore, almost half of the respondents used project data and newly developed tools from these JPI HDL projects in follow-up research. Ultimately, no significant differences were found between project types (traditional funding rounds and knowledge hubs) in the tested indicators. Knowledge hubs did, however, utilize a broader range of knowledge products and dissemination routes, reaching stakeholders beyond academia more effectively.


Within the COVID-19 project, there was also a high level of knowledge utilization. The context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic increased the relevance of research results, contributing to knowledge utilization, especially in practice, policy, and follow-up research. High levels of collaboration with relevant stakeholders also highlighted the importance of qualitative collaboration and networking. This enables access to relevant decision-makers who can effectively utilize specific knowledge. The knowledge products produced mainly focused on information dissemination (primarily academic publications and presentations, as well as reports and news articles). This could hinder implementation since the implementation of research results is often seen as something beyond the scope of researchers. Researchers often lack the resources or capacity to ensure their findings are implemented. This highlighted the need for clarity regarding the responsibility for implementation.

The key Learnings

These in-depth evaluations have brought forth some valuable lessons for ZonMw

  • Strengthening Productive Interactions Enhances Impact: These impact assessments demonstrate that the productive interactions, as described in the ZIAF, are an effective way to increase impact.
  • Collaboration as a Key: The importance of collaboration was repeatedly affirmed, with early engagement of partners and linking projects together enhancing impact.
  • Support for Implementation: The need for more support for implementation was clearly revealed. The responsibility for implementation needs to be addressed.
  • The Role for ZonMw: ZonMw could commit itself as a knowledge hub or collaborate with a knowledge broker to provide support during the implementation process and facilitate connections with relevant stakeholders.


These impact assessments confirm that ZonMw achieves impact through knowledge. The three impact assessments have provided new insights into knowledge utilization across different programs. However, they also offer valuable suggestions for improvements that ZonMw can implement to continue funding research with significant impact in the future.