Summary Policy-makers and managers in natural resource management (NRM) often complain that researchers are out of touch. Researchers often complain that policy-makers and managers make poorly informed decisions. In this article, we report on a meeting between researchers, policy-makers and managers convened to identify practical solutions to improve engagement between these camps. A necessary starting point is that every researcher and policy-maker should understand, and tap into, the motivations and reward systems of the other when seeking engagement. For example, researchers can be motivated to engage in policy development if there is a promise of outputs that align with their reward systems such as co-authored publications. Successful research–policy partnerships are built around personal relationships. As a researcher, you cannot therefore expect your results to inform policy by only publishing in journals. As a policy-maker, you cannot guarantee engagement from researchers by publicly inviting comment on a document. Actively building and maintaining relationships with key individuals through discussions, meetings, workshops or field days will increase the likelihood that research outcomes will inform policy decisions. We identified secondments, sabbaticals, fellowships and ‘buddies’, an annual national NRM conference and ‘contact mapping’ (a Facebook-type network) as forums that can catalyse new relationships between researchers and policy-makers. We challenge every researcher, policy-maker and manager in NRM to build one new cross-cultural relationship each year.