Operational research in low-income countries has a key role in filling the gap between what we know from research and what we do with that knowledge—the so-called know–do gap, or implementation gap. Planned research that does not tangibly affect policies and practices is ineffective and wasteful, especially in settings where resources are scarce and disease burden is high. Clear parameters are urgently needed to measure and judge the success of operational research.
This article defines operational research and its relation with policy and practice, identifies why operational research might fail to affect policy and practice, and offer possible solutions to address these shortcomings. It also proposes measures of success for operational research. Adoption and use of these measures could help to ensure that operational research better changes policy and practice and improves health-care delivery and disease programmes.