Maximizing use of research evidence – how can funders help?

By Bev Holmes

Bev Holmes (biography)

What is the role of funders in maximizing the use of research evidence?

The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research is actively considering this question. An important influence on the Foundation’s thinking is the 2014 Lancet special issue Research: Increasing Value, Reducing Waste, which explores roles for funders, regulators, journals, academic institutions and researchers. Funders have a part to play in each of the five recommendations made in the special issue and these are reviewed first. Also examined is an additional area where funders have a role, namely creating the conditions for effective knowledge translation.

Funder roles in increasing research value

  1. Priority-setting: Funders should be transparent about how they decide what research to support, and ensure that research proposals are justified by systematic reviews. They could also fund investigations into the effects of initiatives to engage potential research users in research prioritization.
  2. Research conduct: Funders can help ensure that adequate steps are taken to reduce bias, and to replicate initial findings by, for example, encouraging public availability of protocols, analysis plans and raw data; supporting methodological training for scientists; and, recognizing reproducible research as well as efforts to build a culture for replication of research.
  3. Research regulation: To ensure that regulation of research is proportionate to the risks of the research, regulators and policymakers need to work with researchers, patients, and health professionals to streamline and harmonize the laws, regulations, guidelines, and processes that govern research. Funders have a role in supporting such efforts, especially around ethics harmonization. Funders can also develop funding programs that require the integration of research in practice, which in turn improves the efficiency of clinical research.
  4. Disseminating research: Funders may have inadvertently contributed to biased under-reporting of studies with disappointing results by focusing on outcomes over learning in grant applications. Funders can also promote making journal articles accessible by allowing charges for open access as eligible expenses. Funders can also do more to endorse study registration policies, wide availability of full study information, and sharing of data, as well as encourage the reporting of research that does not necessarily result in positive or expected outcomes.
  5. Reporting research: As a research ecosystem partner, funders have a role to play in supporting the full and accurate reporting of research to ensure that trial interventions are fully described, outcomes better reported, and new research findings interpreted within a body of knowledge.

Funder role in creating the conditions for effective knowledge translation

There is arguably a sixth recommendation to complement the Lancet series on increasing value and reducing waste in health research and that is enhancing the uptake of evidence into policy and practice.

Five areas together create the conditions for effective knowledge translation (Holmes, Scarrow and Schellenberg 2012). Funders do not necessarily have to work in all these areas themselves, but they do need to ensure that someone in the system is either making or helping them happen. The areas are:

  1. Building capacity for knowledge translation (eg., training and resources)
  2. Doing knowledge translation/ managing knowledge translation projects (eg., researcher – decision maker forums, other events)
  3. Funding knowledge translation (eg., awards)
  4. Advancing the science of knowledge translation (eg., involvement in research)
  5. Advocacy for knowledge translation (eg., encouraging and influencing system change).

As part of its knowledge translation evaluation framework developed in 2017, the Michael Smith Foundation has a developed a logic model, shown in the figure below, to assess funder effectiveness in each of these areas (logic model, left hand side). Funders need to contribute to improved use of evidence in policy, practice and further research, as well as accelerate problem-solving (logic model, right hand side). In between, funder activities and outputs under each of these areas should result in shorter and medium term outcomes that can be measured.

The Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research knowledge translation program logic model (click image to view full screen) Source: Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research

What do you think? Are there other areas where funders could play a stronger role? Do you have additional suggestions for how funders can contribute to the roles already specified?

This blog post is a modified version of two previously published blog posts, which also describe more specifically how the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research is addressing these issues:

  1. Holmes, B. (2018a). Increasing Value, Reducing Waste In Research: What Can Funders Do? Posted on March 21, 2018. Forward Thinking blog. Online:
  2. Holmes, B. (2018b). Lost In Knowledge Translation? Time To Get Strategic. Posted on August 08, 2018. Forward Thinking blog. Online:


Holmes, B., Scarrow, G. and Schellenberg, M. (2012). Translating evidence into practice: The role of health research funders. Implementation Science, 7: 39. Online (DOI): 10.1186/1748-5908-7-39

Lancet (2014). Research: Increasing Value, Reducing Waste, Lancet Series, 383 Online:

Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research. (2017). MSFHR Knowledge Translation Evaluation Framework. Online: (400KB)

Biography: Bev Holmes PhD is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, a research funding agency in British Columbia, Canada. She holds adjunct professor appointments at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia. Her research interests include knowledge translation, discourse analysis, health communication, risk communication, and public involvement in health research.

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