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Increasing the ability of government agencies to undertake evidence-informed policymaking

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Issue 2 | Vol. 2020
Article | DOI: 10.21307/eb-2020-005
Increasing the ability of government agencies to undertake
evidence-informed policymaking
Joshua Newman*
Better Governance and Policy
Monash University.
*Author contact: joshua.newman@
Numerous studies over several decades have suggested that
research evidence does not have the kind of impact on policy
decisions that might be expected from the sheer volume and depth
of the research base that exists in many policy areas. Ultimately,
however, debates about the use of evidence for policy decision-
making are over-theorised, and there is no clear picture of the
empirical research that demonstrates how policymakers can use
evidence in real-life policy decision-making. This systematic review
aims to bring together the existing evidence on research use, with
a specific focus on studies that investigate how the use of research
to inform policy decision-making can be improved. This review
finds that interaction and collaboration between researchers and
policymakers are a frequently cited method of improving the use of
evidence in policymaking, but that more intervention-based research
is required to confirm the effectiveness of these strategies.
Evidence-informed policy.
Numerous studies over several decades (e.g.,
Belkhodja et al., 2007; Caplan, 1979; Howlett and
Newman, 2010; Lester, 1993) have suggested that
research evidence does not have the kind of impact on
policy decisions that might be expected from the sheer
volume and depth of the research base that exists in
many policy areas. Many observers have argued that if
policies are not particularly informed by research, they
must be founded on less robust information, such as
ideology, popular opinion, the will of interest groups
or emotional reaction (Banks, 2009). The argument
associated with this point is that policy that is based
on these factors will produce more negative outcomes
for society and will be less sustainable than evidence-
based policy (Chalmers, 2003).
An extensive body of literature has accumulated
on this subject since the 1970s. The question that has
dominated the academic (and practitioner) debate since
at least 2000 is: ‘Can the use of evidence in policy
decision-making be improved?’ In other words, can
better evidence be obtained for policymaking purposes,
and can this evidence be used more frequently and
more intelligently in the policy decision-making process?
Several schools of thought have emerged, essentially
populating a spectrum of support for the use of
evidence in decision-making. At one extreme, scholars
question the definition of evidence, or perhaps its very
existence. By this account, policy interventions seldom
produce desired outcomes in a cause-and-effect
manner (Biesta, 2007). Certain forms of knowledge
(for instance, quantitative and statistical analyses and
randomised controlled trials) are understood as having
unfair precedence over others (such as interviews,
ethnographies or anecdotal accounts), which creates
an artificial hierarchy of knowledge and undermines the
value of the information used for policy decision-making
(Marston and Watts, 2003).
Further along the spectrum, another group of
observers argues that while evidence may exist,
it can never be ‘used’ by policy decision-makers in
any kind of rational instrumental sense because of
the inherently political nature of public policymaking
Increasing the ability of government agencies to undertake evidence-informed policymaking
(Cairney, 2016). This argument is often coupled with
the normative suggestion that political decision-
making is a cornerstone of democratic governance,
and that true evidence-based policy would result in
a kind of technocracy that would eliminate human
decision-making from the process of governance,
thereby eroding democracy (e.g., Triantafillou, 2015).
Duly elected political representatives, from this point
of view, have the right to ‘ignore evidence’ and
make the decisions they deem to be appropriate
(Monaghan, 2010: 1).
In the centre of the spectrum, a moderate position
has developed in which multiple uses for evidence
are recognised, including rational-instrumental uses,
but also political-symbolic uses and long-term en-
lightenment functions (Head, 2008; Weiss, 1979).
These moderate observers argue that, although the
political use of evidence is unavoidable, and is in any
case a legitimate component of the policy process,
it is possible to improve the instrumental use of
evidence to a certain degree—and this improvement
to the use of evidence will have a positive effect on
policy outcomes (e.g., Nutley and Webb, 2000).
At the other extreme are those who argue that
the current state of affairs in policymaking is dire,
that policymakers are ill-equipped to make decisions
on behalf of the public and that pathological policy
outcomes are rampant. From this perspective,
policy outcomes can only be improved by ensuring
that decisions are based on the best information
available—and the ‘wrong’ decisions are avoided
entirely. Adherents to this point of view often appear
in research on health care (e.g., Clark et al., 2013),
but similar arguments have been made in forestry
(Shanley and López, 2009) and criminal justice (Drake
et al., 2009), as well as in many other fields of research
that are relevant to public policy.
Ultimately, debates surrounding the use of evidence
for policy decision-making are over-theorised, with
a lot of well-intentioned, and also perhaps very well-
developed, theory-based writing lacking sufficient
empirical data to support theoretical claims. There
is no clear picture of the empirical research that
demonstrates how policymakers can improve the
use of evidence in real-life policy decision-making or
whether this is even possible in the first place. This
systematic review aims to bring together the existing
evidence on research use, with a specific focus on
studies that investigate whether and how the use of
research to inform policy decision-making can be
improved. This review finds that policy professionals
tend to believe that barriers to evidence use exist in the
relationship between researchers and policymakers,
and that efforts need to be made to overcome these
barriers, particularly with respect to communication
and collaboration. However, only a very limited
number of studies use an experimental intervention
as a research method, meaning that beliefs and
perceptions dominate the knowledge base, and the
effects of various strategies to improve the use of
evidence are difficult to estimate. Nonetheless, there
were no empirical studies in this review that concluded
that improving evidence use was impossible, which
suggests that there is a consensus arising among
empirical scholars that improvement can be achieved.
The conclusion of this review is that more innovative,
intervention-based research is required, which will
enable a more complete understanding of how public
policy decision-making can be better informed by
appropriate research evidence.
What’s the Problem with
Evidence-based Policy?
For the past 40 years, the dominant explanation for
why research has had a poor record of influencing
public policy has been the ‘two-communities’ thesis
(Caplan, 1979; Dunn, 1980; Edwards, 2005). According
to this explanation, research producers and research
consumers reside in different communities that are
separated by structural, cultural and institutional barriers.
Research producers, who are largely university-based
academics, are rewarded for generating high-quality
peer-reviewed publications, but not for communicating
research results to decision-makers or for influencing
policymaking. Research consumers, who are loosely
characterised as ‘policymakers’ but not otherwise
specifically des cribed in much of the literature, are
rewarded for addressing political and administrative
problems and are not often encouraged to engage
with academics unless it is to commission a report
on a specific policy issue. Furthermore, researchers
write lengthy, prosaic reports with extensive literature
reviews, whereas policymakers work with brief
practical summaries and essential bullet points, so
there is a language barrier in addition to a gap in
functional objectives. Timelines are divergent as well:
policymakers deal with urgent problems that need
immediate solutions, whereas quality academic studies
often take several years to execute. And, fundamentally,
the motivations and risks associated with each of the
communities are different, as academics aim to create
knowledge, not necessarily to use it, and they are at least
one step removed from the risk that their knowledge
might cause harm to some people. Policymakers, on
the other hand, aim to solve policy problems and, when
they make mistakes, real people’s lives can be materially
disrupted. While this narrative has been criticised (e.g.,
Bogenschneider and Corbett, 2010; Jacobson, 2007),
it is noteworthy that the two-communities approach is
still popular even if the words ‘two communities’ are no
longer specifically mentioned (e.g., Mead, 2015).
Accordingly, the majority of the research on
evidence-based policymaking has concerned itself
with bridging the research–policy ‘divide’. Studies
exploring knowledge brokering (van der Arend, 2014),
knowledge translation (Estabrooks et al., 2006) and
knowledge transfer (Ozga and Jones, 2006) are
abundant. Recommendations on how to bridge the
gap include enforced or institutionalised collaboration
between researchers and policymakers (Estabrooks
et al., 2019), educating researchers on how to
communicate with policymakers (Pullin et al., 2009)
and improving researchers’ knowledge of politics so
they can more strategically intervene in the policy
process (Cairney, 2016).
It is important to note that there are other
explanations for the apparently poor uptake of research
in the policymaking process. For example, a separate
branch of the literature also exists that questions the
validity of the two-communities approach. In every
study that purports to demonstrate that policymakers
are not using research, there is always a significant
minority of respondents who identify as research users
(Newman et al., 2016). Subsequently, it might make
more sense to investigate who the research users
are and what characteristics, such as education or
training, might make them more inclined to engage
with research in their work on public policy. Studies
conducted in this vein tend to look at deficiencies in the
policy workforce, such as human resource capacity,
education and skill levels and organisational culture,
as factors influencing the uptake of research evidence
in policymaking (Cherney et al., 2015; Newman et al.,
2017). In contrast to the ‘two-communities’ approach,
this alternative perspective perceives the main issue
as a problem of policy ‘capacity’, in effect relocating
the burden of improving evidence-based policymaking
from researchers to the policymaking system itself
(Newm an, 2017).
This systematic review covers empirical studies
that address strategies for improving the use of
research in informing public policy decisions. Studies
that explicitly take a two-communities approach as
well as studies that rely on other sets of assumptions
have been included, with no weighting or preference
given to any particular perspective. The objective is to
examine the previous empirical research on evidence
use so as to draw a picture of the current state of
knowledge on how evidence can better inform
public policymaking. Nonetheless, it is important to
recognise the inherent assumptions of the various
approaches to scholarship in this area, to identify
profitable directions for future study.
Two previous systematic reviews with similar
mission statements have been conducted. Contan-
driopoulos et al. (2010) reviewed 205 documents
across multiple disciplines and concluded that
policymakers engage in a form of cost–benefit analysis
when deciding whether to use evidence to inform
decision-making: if the cost (including time and other
resources) of obtaining and processing the information
is less than the perceived benefits, efforts will be made
to use the information. If the costs are perceived to
outweigh the benefits, then other parties (research
producers or specialised knowledge brokers) will need
to bear those costs of communication; otherwise, the
information will not have a material influence on policy.
Furthermore, if the policy area is one that exhibits high
levels of polarisation, the information will be used in a
political or symbolic way, whereas in a low-polarisation
area information use can be more instrumental,
according to the typology provided by Weiss (1979).
Oliver et al. (2014) reviewed 145 studies—
also across multiple disciplines—and found that
communication of research results was an important
factor in determining whether research was used to
influence policymaking. They also concluded from
their review that collaboration between research
producers and research users was cited more often
than any other method as an enabler of evidence use
(Oliver et al., 2014: 8).
While useful, these two previous systematic
reviews do not entirely fulfil the purpose of the
present review. First, both previous reviews mix purely
theoretical works (i.e., papers that do not present any
data) with empirical research. Second, they both
focus on communication and collaboration between
research producers and research consumers,
which implies a preference for a two-communities
approach to the issues surrounding evidence use.
Contandriopoulos et al. (2010: 449), for instance,
explicitly only reviewed papers that presented ‘active,
deliberate communication efforts’. Oliver et al. (2014:
1) frame their review in terms of the difficulties of
communicating research, declaring from the outset
that the essential problem is that ‘research often
struggles to identify a policy audience’.
A third review, by Oliver and Cairney (2019), covers
some of the same territory but aims to achieve a very
different objective—seeking advice for academics to
improve their influence on public policy. Oliver and
Cairney’s focus on the role of academics means that
scholarship that looks at changes to the policymaking
process would not be included.
Increasing the ability of government agencies to undertake evidence-informed policymaking
The present review takes a more targeted
approach than the previous reviews discussed
above. All policy areas have been considered, but
only studies that present empirical research and also
relate to strategies to improve evidence use have
been included. This could include communication
and collaboration but also capacity issues such as
organisational culture and skills training, or other
methods not covered by previous reviews. Moreover,
this is a rapidly expanding area of research; Oliver
et al. (2014: 2) found that half of the studies they
included for review were published between 2010 and
2012. Therefore, with 10 years since the publication
of the Contandriopoulos et al. review and seven
years since the end of the inclusion period for Oliver
et al.’s review, the present review will have captured
a significant number of documents that older reviews
could not have considered, while casting a wider net
than the Oliver and Cairney review.
An iterative review procedure was adopted in which
keywords were used as an initial search protocol. In
the first step, sequential keyword searches of Google
Scholar were conducted. For each search, all previous
keywords were subtracted from the search terms
to produce entirely new search results. For each
search, titles and abstracts were examined until at
least 10 pages (100 items) had passed without any
relevant studies arising. Keywords included ‘evidence
based policy’, ‘evidence based policymaking’, ‘re-
search utilisation/utilization’, ‘evidence informed policy’,
‘evidence informed policymaking’, ‘knowledge transfer’,
‘knowledge translation’ and ‘knowledge broker/bro-
kering’. This step produced some 3,350 items.
As mentioned, the titles and abstracts of the items
identified in the first step were examined for relevance
and, if found to be relevant, the full text of the item
was downloaded for an in-depth review. A total
of only 64 items were downloaded and read in full.
This small number of relevant items arises from the
popularity of evidence-related terminology and also
reflects the scarcity of direct empirical research in this
area. Among the original 3,350 items identified in the
previous step, an overwhelming number were papers
that tangentially referred to ‘evidence’ and ‘policy’ but
did not discuss improvements to evidence-based
Finally, downloaded items were compared with
inclusion criteria and items that failed to meet the criteria
were discarded. As discussed above, the objective
of this review was to synthesise existing empirical
studies that investigate how to improve the use of
evidence for policy decision-making. Ultimately, the
goal was to obtain lessons that are applicable across
policy domains and that are relevant to governments
and other decision-makers with a primary audience
in Australia and New Zealand. As such, only original
empirical studies were included and studies that only
developed theory or that did not present empirical data
or research outcomes, that were literature reviews,
meta-analyses or systematic reviews themselves or
that were editorials or commentary were excluded.
For ease of comparison, only fully published peer-
reviewed publications (no working papers, blogs or
reports) available in English were included. The year
2000 was chosen as a lower boundary for the search
because studies conducted before that time would
be unlikely to consider the impact of technology on
communication and networking. The search was
completed in September 2019.
Of the 64 items that were downloaded and
reviewed in depth, 13 were found to contain no
empirical data and were excluded. Two items could
not be included because they related to clinical
practice rather than policy decision-making. Eleven
items investigated whether or not evidence had
been used in decision-making in a particular case
study but did not discuss how to improve the use of
evidence, and therefore did not have sufficient general
applicability to be included in this review. Three items
involved a developing-country context that would not
be relevant to Australian or New Zealand decision-
makers (e.g., the influence of foreign aid organisations
on policy decisions). And eight studies reported a
method for improving evidence use—in most cases,
a highly developed method, often already applied
in practice—but did not test the method or report
any outcomes. Despite appearing in peer-reviewed
journal outlets, these ‘method’ reports were more like
public relations or advertising for the think tanks or
research institutes that had created the instruments.
They did not demonstrate the value or effectiveness
of their particular method or instrument, and so could
not be included in this review.
In total, 26 studies were retained for inclusion in the
review. This is admittedly a small number compared
with similar reviews conducted in the past, but it is an
accurate representation of the state of research in this
field. There are very few empirical studies that deliver
practical, generalisable lessons on evidence use for
policy decision-making.
Because of the small pool of existing research, it is
not possible to focus on specific methodologies or
to use scale or sample size as an inclusion criterion.
The studies included in this review represent a range
of qualitative and quantitative research methods,
including surveys (8), interviews (13), focus groups (5)
and primary document research (2), conducted at a
wide range of scales (for example, sample sizes for
surveys ranged from 21 to 1,379 and samples sizes
for interviews ranged from 5 to 152). Some studies
used multiple methods. A full breakdown is given in
Figure 1.
The most popular research methodology among
the included studies was interview-based research.
Interviewees included legislators, administrative
managers, policy analysts, street-level service pro-
viders, clinical practitioners (e.g., doctors and nurses)
and academics, among others. Surveys and focus
groups were also popular. These instruments were
mainly used to gauge respondents’ perceptions of
barriers to and enablers of evidence use. In other
words, these instruments were used to discover what
people who work in the public policy arena believe
about the use of research evidence to inform policy.
Although some studies combined methods (e.g., a
broad survey followed by targeted interviews), most
of these studies focused on beliefs and perceptions
without supporting their findings with other, more
objective measures.
Five studies used an intervention technique as their
primary research method, by which I mean deliberate
actions were designed and applied by the researchers
in an attempt to make some change to an existing
system or process. Two further studies presented
detailed case studies as illustrative examples. Studies
using these methods were concerned more with
demonstrating an effect than with collecting and
summarising beliefs and perceptions.
In three of the intervention studies, researchers
produced a report on a specific policy issue (e.g.,
breast cancer prevention) and then delivered the
report to a defined group of policymaker participants,
asked them to read it and then, at a later time, either
surveyed or interviewed the participants and asked
them how the report influenced their policy-related
work. The other two intervention studies followed a
similar procedure, but, in one case (Campbell et al.,
2011), the intervention was a ‘rapid review’ system
in which government agencies can commission an
evidence review on a specific policy question and
receive a tailored report in a short time (six to eight
weeks). In the remaining study (Bogenschneider et al.,
2000), researchers conducted an ongoing seminar
series that legislators were invited to attend to engage
directly with researchers on particular policy issues.
The case study articles provided detailed analysis
of the effect of an expert task force (O’Brien Pallas
and Baumann, 2000) and an independent think tank
(White et al., 2018) on policy decision-making.
Policy areas considered in the included pieces
were predominantly from health-related fields, with
nine studies considering healthcare services and
a further 11 studies involving general public health
topics. This is consistent with previous reviews
(Contandriopoulos et al., 2010; Oliver et al., 2014).
Crime, the environment, forest resources and social
welfare were the subjects of one article each, and
two pieces did not specify a policy area at all. The
geographic areas most frequently considered were
Canada and the United Kingdom. These results are
shown in Figures 2 and 3.
The conclusions and recommendations reached
by the studies reviewed here can be grouped into
several categories. By far the most frequently reported
conclusion was that researchers and policymakers
need to collaborate more often, preferably with
some kind of institutionalised fixture to sustain and
enforce interaction. This conclusion featured in 16
Figure 1: Research Methodologies.
024681012 14
Intervention - rapid review
Intervention - seminar series
Case study - task force
Case study - think tank
Primary documents
Survey (telephone)
Intervention - report/response
Focus groups
Survey (online or paper)
0246810 12
Social welfare
Health care
Public health
Figure 2: Policy Areas.
Increasing the ability of government agencies to undertake evidence-informed policymaking
of 26 articles. Another 14 of 26 articles concluded
that better-quality communication would improve
the use of evidence in policymaking. These studies
recommended that researchers tailor their writing to a
policy audience by preparing brief summaries of their
research, focused on essential bullet points, which
busy administrative professionals can digest quickly
and easily. In addition, according to these studies,
researchers should follow public sector timelines so
they can deliver their research results at appropriate
points in the decision-making cycle of their policy area,
so as to maximise research impact, and they should
also focus on policy topics that are relevant to policy
decision-makers, analysts and advisers. Eight of 26
studies recommended specialised roles for knowledge
brokers to ensure collaboration and communication
between researchers and policy makers, and five
studies suggested that researchers need to ‘get
political’ if they want their research to influence policy.
In addition to these ‘two-communities’ solutions,
many studies reached other focal points, including
the notion that policy capacity issues were the
main problems requiring attention. Ten studies
concluded that organisational culture was a major
predictive factor in whether research evidence is
used in policymaking—that is, agencies that prioritise
research evidence and foster an environment
where evidence is valued are more likely to produce
policies that are informed by research. Seven studies
concluded that policymakers need to have better
access to research, whether or not that involves
direct contact with researchers. Six studies reported
that better resources—including technology as well
as personnel, funding and time—were required to
improve evidence-based policymaking. And a further
six studies concluded that improving the skills base
of existing policy personnel would have a beneficial
effect on evidence use.
A number of studies made innovative suggestions
that did not fit in either the ‘two-communities’ or the
policy capacity toolboxes. Five studies recommended
support for public debate, deliberation and media
attention as a strategy for increasing accountability
and transparency in policymaking and, ultimately,
a greater focus on research evidence to support
and legitimise policy decisions. Four studies
endorsed neutral expert advisers, in the form of
either independent advisory boards or in-house
research divisions. Two studies concluded that
decentralisation of decision-making to subnational
or local governments resulted in a stronger use of
research evidence. And one article (Belkhodja et
al. 2007) found that organisations that focus on the
needs of clients or end users tend to report a greater
use of evidence. These results are summarised in
Figure 4.
Because this review includes both qualitative and
quantitative studies, and because the small pool of
studies did not allow for a focus on methodology
or scale, it is not possible to reach any conclusions
about the relative size of different effects or to assess
bias in any meaningful way. Instead, the contribution
of this review is to highlight the themes, methods
and conclusions that are dominant in the existing
literature, with a view towards how the research
agenda can be progressed into the future.
Discussion and Conclusions
Previous international research (e.g., Howlett and
Newman, 2010; Lester, 1993) has already convincingly
suggested that evidence is not used very often or
very effectively to inform or influence policy decisions,
and a majority of policymakers only rarely report
using evidence themselves. This systematic review
finds that policymakers also believe that some of the
Figure 3: Geographic Areas.
0246810 12
South Africa
United States
Europe/European Unio
United Kingdom
Figure 4: Conclusions or
0246810 12 14 16 18
client focus
decentralization of decision making
neutral expert advisers
public debate/deliberation/media attention
get political
skills training
access to research
knowledge brokers
organisational culture
better quality communication
best strategies to improve the use of evidence in-
clude collaboration between researchers and policy-
makers, institutionalised knowledge brokering and
better communication of research results. Among
the studies included in this review, these ‘two-
communities’ strategies were pervasive.
But more to the point, the studies reviewed
here mostly relied on research methodologies that
collected the personal views of policymaker res-
pondents. In other words, the existing empirical
research base in this area demonstrates compellingly
that policymakers believe that research and policy
are two communities and that evidence use will only
improve if a way is found to bridge the divide between
them. But how do we know whether this is in fact
true? In light of research (e.g., Newman et al., 2016)
that, as previously discussed, challenges the two-
communities approach, it is reasonable to question
whether this perspective is somewhat mythologised
and not an accurate reflection of reality, despite its
popularity. This challenge is further bolstered by the
fact that a number of studies included in this review
cited policy capacity issues, as well as other factors
such as public attention or a focus on end users,
as being important determinants of evidence use.
Indeed, three studies (Bowen et al., 2009; Flitcroft et
al., 2011; Kothari et al., 2005) explicitly concluded that
collaboration and communication were not the main
barriers to improved evidence use.
In general, the knowledge base in this area
lacks sufficient intervention-based research to be
able to demonstrate effective approaches to im-
prove the use of evidence in policymaking. The
existing research shows what policy actors believe,
but it does a poor job of confirming whether these
beliefs are accurate. The knowledge base would
be improved tremendously with the addition of
experimental investigations that test these beliefs. Do
improved communication and collaboration between
researchers and policy actors result in better use of
evidence for the purposes of policymaking in real-life
settings? If so, which methods—for example, more
proactive researchers, institutionalised knowledge
brokers, co-produced research activities—work best
and under what circumstances? Or additionally, are
there other factors that need to be explored, such as
improved processes within the policymaking system
or an extended role for the media and external
observers that might have even more potent effects
on the uptake of research evidence? In general, the
reliance of the existing scholarship on some common,
untested assumptions demonstrates a shortage of
innovative thinking and experimental testing, which if
corrected would go a long way towards expanding
our understanding of how evidence can be used
more effectively to inform public policy. Very few
existing empirical studies employ novel techniques or
trial changes to the policy process.
Admittedly, in an environment where researchers
have demonstrable barriers to engaging with policy-
makers, it is fundamentally difficult to get policymakers
to collaborate on research about policymaking;
nonetheless, until more intervention-based research
is conducted, the notion that policy and research
exist in separate realms, and that bridging the divide
is the best approach to improving evidence use, will
continue to be untested hypotheses.
The results discussed in this review suggest two
further conclusions. First, healthcare policy continues
to dominate discussions of evidence-informed policy-
making. This is reasonable in that just about every
aspect of health-related policy decision-making ma-
terially affects the lives of the people at whom the
policies are aimed. From this point of view, the duty
to do ‘more good than harm’ (Chalmers, 2003) is
arguably higher in the health sector than in other policy
areas. Nevertheless, there are other areas that have
significant impacts on individuals and communities,
and effective and sustainable outcomes are required
in most, if not all, policy areas. If research on evidence
use is to continue to be relevant there must be a
broader scope of investigation that includes a wider
range of policy sectors.
And finally, it is especially worthy to note that not
a single study included in this review concluded that
evidence use in policymaking cannot be improved.
In other words, according to the existing scholarship,
it is possible to employ strategies or make changes
to the system that will enable a greater use of
research evidence to inform policy decision-making.
This is a significant challenge to the (also largely
untested) literature that argues that evidence-based
policymaking is impossible. What is required from this
point forward is to expand the research agenda to
include more empirical studies on the best strategies to
enable improvement and also the appropriate contexts
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... However, there are still challenges to connect scientific evidence with policymaking, including differences between the type of evidence that researchers produced and the form of evidence that policymakers need (Cairney & Oliver, 2020;Rose, 2017). The complexity and timeliness of scientific data are just some of the barriers to the use of scientific work for policymaking (Newman, 2020). There have been works exploring different routes to overcome these challenges, including knowledge brokering and translations (Mols et al., 2020), institutionalised collaborative practices (Estabrooks et al., 2019), promoting an organisational culture of scientific advice in policy through leadership (Van der Arend, 2014), among others. ...
... Traditionally, most academic work has focused on understanding scientific advice for executive branches (Kenny et al., 2017). Consequently, recent systematic analyzes have focused on executive advisory processes (Newman, 2020;Oliver & Cairney, 2019). Hence, we asked ourselves: what is the current state-of-the-art knowledge about legislative advisory bodies and their advice processes? ...
... Examples of this trend can be found in the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the new behavioural science unit in the US Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the UK networks of 'What Works' evidence centres. a) Recommendations for knowledge brokering and translation: moving from the scientific to the policy sphere Another critical element discussed by experts in various fields is the need for adequate knowledge brokering (Newman, 2020), i.e. the transition from predominantly scientific or academic to outputs that are engaging and easily of use for legislators (Oliver & Boaz, 2019;Rose, 2017). Examples of strategies to achieve this could be increased use of data visualisation (Rose, 2017), reduced scientific jargon (Kenny et al., 2017), institutionalised collaborative practices (Estabrooks et al., 2019), and promotion of an organisational culture of scientific advice in policy through leadership (Van der Arend, 2014). ...
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Science advice has received renewed attention for evidence-informed legislation. However, no work has evaluated current trends in the field. We did a systematic review for publications between 2014 and 2020 to develop a typology using the legislative scientific advice body as a unit of analysis. The typology includes 12 categories that provide insights into the contextual background, mandate, structure, and advice process of legislative advisory bodies. We noticed that most of the work focused on advisory units is in western and high-income countries. The bodies show a wide degree of advice practices and politicisation. There are open opportunities for research, such as doing further comparative analyzes. Lastly, we found that foresight and horizon scanning methodologies were increasingly implemented in legislatures for participatory advice and to set long-term priorities. The findings can shed light on advancing legislative scientific advice for researchers and practitioners alike.
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Governments across the globe have expressed their interest in forms of codesign and coproduction as a useful tool for crafting policy solutions. Genuine relationships between partners are seen as an important way to build meaningful and lasting impact for policy. One area of interest in this space has been on how researchers and policymakers can work better together to design and produce more evidence-based policies. For many practitioners and researchers, knowledge coproduction is presented as a panacea to the ongoing challenges of research translation. It is positioned as assisting in building more meaningful, trusting relationships which, in turn, support the development of more effective policy solutions. Using the insider experience of a coproduced government project in Queensland, Australia, this paper reflects on the realities and tensions between this idealism associated with policy co-production methodologies and the ongoing messiness of public policy practice. Beginning with an overview of the literature on coproduction, followed by a brief introduction to the case and the method used, the paper concludes by highlighting the strengths, facilitators and benefits of the approach while raising questions about whether coproduction is a panacea to research translation concerns or a placebo. The answer, we argue, lies more in how success is defined than any concrete solution.
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Many academics have strong incentives to influence policymaking, but may not know where to start. We searched systematically for, and synthesised, the ‘how to’ advice in the academic peer-reviewed and grey literatures. We condense this advice into eight main recommendations: (1) Do high quality research; (2) make your research relevant and readable; (3) understand policy processes; (4) be accessible to policymakers: engage routinely, flexible, and humbly; (5) decide if you want to be an issue advocate or honest broker; (6) build relationships (and ground rules) with policymakers; (7) be ‘entrepreneurial’ or find someone who is; and (8) reflect continuously: should you engage, do you want to, and is it working? This advice seems like common sense. However, it masks major inconsistencies, regarding different beliefs about the nature of the problem to be solved when using this advice. Furthermore, if not accompanied by critical analysis and insights from the peer-reviewed literature, it could provide misleading guidance for people new to this field.
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BACKGROUND National Tuberculosis Programmes (NTPs) require specialist input to support the development of policy and practice informed by evidence, typically against tight deadlines. OBJECTIVE To describe lessons learned from establishing a dedicated tuberculosis (TB) think tank to advise the South African NTP on TB policy. INTERVENTION AND EVALUATION METHODS A national TB think tank was established to advise the NTP in support of evidence-informed policy. Support was provided for activities, including meetings, modelling and regular telephone calls, with a wider network of unpaid expert advisers under an executive committee and working groups. Intervention evaluation used desktop analysis of documentary evidence, interviews and direct observation. RESULTS The TB Think Tank evolved over time to acquire three key roles: an ‘institution’, a ‘policy dialogue forum’ and an ‘interface’. Although enthusiasm was high, motivating participation among the NTP and external experts proved challenging. Motivation of working groups was most successful when aligned to a specific need for NTP decision making. Despite challenges, the TB Think Tank contributed to South Africa's first ever TB and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) investment case, and the decision to create South Africa's first ever ring-fenced grant for TB. The TB Think Tank also assisted the NTP in formulating strategy to accelerate progress towards reaching World Health Organization targets. DISCUSSION With partners, the TB Think Tank achieved major successes in supporting evidence-informed decision making, and garnered increased funding for TB in South Africa. Identifying ways to increase the involvement of NTP staff and other experts, and keeping the scope of the Think Tank well defined, could facilitate greater impact. Think tank initiatives could be replicated in other settings to support evidence-informed policy making.
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While academics can do more to communicate the key messages of their research, the organisational cultures and information infrastructure of policy-related work units also play a large part in influencing the extent of research uptake in government agencies. Data from a large Australian survey (N 2084) of policy-related officials in government agencies is examined to provide insights into how certain preferences, constraints and organisational factors influence the ways in which policy personnel seek out and use academic social research.
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Over the last few decades performance management (PM) has invaded the public sector in most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. More recently, we have seen increasing demands for evidence-based policymaking (EP). This article critically discusses the political implications of PM and EP by regarding them as particular forms of governing. Accordingly, PM may be viewed as a form of governing hinging on the regulated and accountable forms of freedom exercised by public administrators. In contrast, EP may be regarded as a technocratic and potentially authoritarian form of governing depending on quite narrow and exclusive forms of knowledge production. EP then seems to be directly at odds with PM and sits uneasily with neoliberal forms of rule.
The implementation of evidence-based physical activity interventions is improved when integrated research-practice partnerships are used. These partnerships consider both research- and practice-based evidence that moves beyond only assessing program efficacy. Our novel hypothesis is that integrated research-practice partnerships may lead to interventions that are practical and effective, reach more participants, and are more likely to be sustained in practice.
The gap between research and practice or policy is often described as a problem. To identify new barriers of and facilitators to the use of evidence by policymakers, and assess the state of research in this area, we updated a systematic review. Systematic review. We searched online databases including Medline, Embase, SocSci Abstracts, CDS, DARE, Psychlit, Cochrane Library, NHSEED, HTA, PAIS, IBSS (Search dates: July 2000 - September 2012). Studies were included if they were primary research or systematic reviews about factors affecting the use of evidence in policy. Studies were coded to extract data on methods, topic, focus, results and population. 145 new studies were identified, of which over half were published after 2010. Thirteen systematic reviews were included. Compared with the original review, a much wider range of policy topics was found. Although still primarily in the health field, studies were also drawn from criminal justice, traffic policy, drug policy, and partnership working. The most frequently reported barriers to evidence uptake were poor access to good quality relevant research, and lack of timely research output. The most frequently reported facilitators were collaboration between researchers and policymakers, and improved relationships and skills. There is an increasing amount of research into new models of knowledge transfer, and evaluations of interventions such as knowledge brokerage. Timely access to good quality and relevant research evidence, collaborations with policymakers and relationship- and skills-building with policymakers are reported to be the most important factors in influencing the use of evidence. Although investigations into the use of evidence have spread beyond the health field and into more countries, the main barriers and facilitators remained the same as in the earlier review. Few studies provide clear definitions of policy, evidence or policymaker. Nor are empirical data about policy processes or implementation of policy widely available. It is therefore difficult to describe the role of evidence and other factors influencing policy. Future research and policy priorities should aim to illuminate these concepts and processes, target the factors identified in this review, and consider new methods of overcoming the barriers described.
Academics and policy makers in many Western countries are perceived as occupying separate communities, with distinct languages, values, and reward systems. However, data from a survey of more than 2,000 policy officials and 126 in-depth interviews with public servants in Australia suggest that the “two communities” conceptualization may be misleading and flawed. More realistically, there is a range of interaction between policy and academia, with some individuals valuing and using academic research more than others. Furthermore, this relationship is complicated by the internal division between the political and administrative components of the public policy process.
Public health practitioners make decisions based on research evidence in combination with a variety of other influences. Evidence summaries are one of a range of knowledge translation options used to support evidence-informed decision making. The literature relevant to obesity prevention requires synthesis for it to be accessible and relevant to end-users. As part of a national collaboration on obesity prevention, we used a stakeholder-focused approach combined with transparent review methods to develop evidence summaries covering a selection of topics relevant to policy and practice in the context of childhood obesity prevention.
Most academic research on public policy achieves little influence in government. The disconnect reflects the different ways researchers and government learn about policy. In social policy, typically, scholars make rigorous but narrow arguments about how to improve social conditions while saying little about politics or government. Policymakers, however, reason in broader, integrative ways and pay more attention to program experience and institutions. Evaluations have influence in part because they serve the governmental style. By reasoning more like policymakers, scholars could have greater influence. But to make that connection, the teaching of public policy and academic incentives must change.