Six strategies to ensure policies are backed by evidence

By Danielle Campbell and Gabriel Moore

1. Danielle Campbell (biography)
2. Gabriel Moore (biography)

What is the best way to ensure that policies are informed by the most relevant research evidence?

Six promising strategies emerged from a rapid review of the literature (Campbell and Moore 2018). Although our focus was on health policies, the findings are likely to be more broadly applicable. An important caveat is that the number of studies to investigate these issues is small and most are descriptive rather than testing strategies.

The six strategies are:

  1. A system for commissioning rapid reviews responsive to policy maker needs: A mechanism to assess policy makers’ review requirements can help ensure they are targeted with relevant syntheses of research evidence, whether as brief summaries or detailed reports.
  2. Tailored approaches to presenting research findings to policy makers: Tailored targeted messages are important to alert policy makers to relevant research findings and to enable their access to them.
  3. The involvement of policy makers in research teams and networks: Collaboration of research producers and users can cut across all parts of the research process, from shaping research questions, to methodology, data collection, interpretation of and implementing the results.
  4. Interactive seminars for communicating evidence to policy makers: Traditional seminars can stimulate the thinking of policy makers and interactive round-tables can enhance the relevance and effectiveness of presentations and dialogue.
  5. Initiatives to build individual and organisational capacity to consume research evidence: Organisation-level interventions can boost receptivity to research evidence. Knowledge brokers and individual training in critical appraisal and research literacy can also be helpful.
  6. Funded institutional-level collaborations: Grant-funded, institutional level centres can effectively bring together policy makers, service providers and researchers.

What has your experience been as a policy maker or researcher? Do you have strategies or lessons to share?

To find out more see:
Campbell, D. M. and Moore, G. (2018). Increasing the use of research in population health policies and programs: A rapid review. Public Health Research and Practice, 28, 3: e2831816. Online (open access) (DOI): 10.17061/phrp2831816

Biography: Danielle Campbell is a senior policy analyst in the Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence, New South Wales Ministry of Health in Sydney, Australia. Her main area of interest is building the capacity and capability of policy agencies to generate and use evidence from research.

Biography: Gabriel Moore is a manager and principal analyst at the Sax Institute’s Knowledge Exchange Division in Sydney, Australia. Her main area of interest is in evidence generation, knowledge translation and building research capacity in public health systems and policy.

2 thoughts on “Six strategies to ensure policies are backed by evidence”

  1. Thank you for this very thoughtful comment Gerald. We do acknowledge the value of considering the broader policy making system and its context, including the roles and functions of actors and structures. For the purposes of this review, however, our focus was on discrete strategies that would be relevant to population health policy and program delivery in government health agencies.

    Regarding your comment about the emphasis on ‘supply’ side efforts, on a positive note we have detected a shift in the focus of research in this field over time. In the body of literature over and above the 14 articles we included in this rapid review, compared with previous review, we can see a greater emphasis now on both describing both ‘demand’ side (e.g. the design, roles and functions of government-funded research centres) and ‘exchange’ initiatives (e.g. research partnerships and facilitated exchanges).

    We would also note more recent and ongoing research focusing on more complex and multifaceted interventions with policy agencies. These include SPIRIT (Supporting Policy In health with Research: an Intervention Trial) conducted by the Sax Institute in Australia and a research program on integrated knowledge translation being conducted in Canada.

  2. This is a useful summary of strategies to improve the use of evidence, but I’m becoming increasingly concerned that the literature in general (not your summary) is overly focused on the ‘supply side’ – what academics can do to improve their communications with policy makers. This is not surprising, given that we can have more influence in our own back yards than in other people’s, but it nevertheless means that much of the literature takes for granted that policy making just is what it is, and cannot be changed.

    It seems to me that your point 5 (initiatives to build capacity to consume research evidence) is the key one that addresses the imbalance I just mentioned. While your points 3 (policy makers getting involved with research) and 6 (institution-level collaborations) can improve the quality of the ‘demand side’ by making policy makers more familiar with the nature of evidence, they don’t actually tackle the structural constraints in the policy environment that result in back-of-the-envelope policies and ‘Jane down the corridor’ being more influential than the highest quality science.

    However, capacity-building (your point 5) is a can of worms. The actual term ‘capacity-building’ is too often deployed with a Human Resources mindset, so the focus is on the upskilling of individuals. From my perspective, it is not the individuals but the policy making system that needs to be the focus. Building capacity needs to involve a fundamental rethink of policy making processes, where increased and improved uses of evidence are just one part of a better overall approach.

    A better approach would include much more facilitated and synergistic triangulations between political agendas, scientific evidence and citizen-and-stakeholder engagement. And we need to avoid radical splits between issues of fact and value: as long as it is assumed that politicians make value judgements and scientists make facts, while citizens are only partially informed about both, it remains possible for politicians to dismiss science because of its disregard for the ‘political realities’, and for scientists to dismiss politicians because of their disregard for the facts. Both politicians and scientists (with a few notable exceptions) keep citizens at arms length, and merely ‘manage’ stakeholders rather than co-construct their work in partnership with them. We need to recognise that politicians, scientists and citizens-stakeholders all have perspectives on facts, values and each other – and some perspectives will be better informed than others, making facilitated explorations of policy issues really fruitful. Of course this will cost more than the current systems we rely upon, but given the enormous waste of money that unsuitable policies represent, it seems to me that the investment would be worth it.


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