New Editors in Chief of Evidence & Policy

We are pleased to introduce the new Editors in Chief of Evidence & Policy: Professor Zachary Neal, Michigan State University, USA and Professor Caroline Oliver, University College London, UK, who took over from the journal’s previous Co-Editors Professor Katherine Smith, University of Strathclyde, UK and Dr Mark Pearson, Hull York Medical School, UK as of January 2022.

Evidence & Policy is the first peer-reviewed journal dedicated to a comprehensive and critical assessment of the relationship between researchers and the evidence they produce and the concerns of policymakers and practitioners.

International in scope and interdisciplinary in focus, it addresses the needs of those who develop public policies, provide public services, or provide the research base for evaluation and development across a wide range of social and public policy issues (e.g. criminal justice, employment and welfare, education, environmental protection, finance, health, housing, international development, social care, and transport), and those who are working to connect the two (such as knowledge brokers).

Zachary Neal, Incoming Co-Editor in Chief of Evidence & Policy, said:

“Mark Pearson and Katherine Smith have done amazing work to establish Evidence & Policy as a leading outlet for research on knowledge translation. I am excited to build on their hard work and look forward to incorporating open science practices that help make this research transparent and available to everyone.”

Caroline Oliver, Incoming Co-Editor in Chief of Evidence & Policy, said:

“It feels an honour to take on the role as Co Editor in Chief with Zak, and we look forward to continuing the great work that Katherine and Mark have done with Evidence & Policy over recent years. In this position, I am looking forward to maintaining the high quality of publications in the journal, as well as encouraging a diversification of articles published in terms of geographic focus, topics, disciplines and theoretical underpinnings, to further that aim.”

We join Professor Neal and Professor Oliver in thanking Co-Editors Professor Katherine Smith, University of Strathclyde, UK and Dr Mark Pearson, Hull York Medical School, UK for their dedication, their excellent stewardship of the journal and the many achievements that have marked their term as Editors in Chief.

Bridging the research‐policy gap: the importance of effective identity leadership and shared commitment

Frank Mols

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article ‘Bridging the research‐policy gap: the importance of effective identity leadership and shared commitment

There is widespread agreement, among public policy scholars, that research evidence does not translate readily into policy practice, and that more needs to be done to ‘bridge the gap’ between policy research and policy practice. But why is it so difficult to achieve evidence-based policy in practice?

An important reason for this mismatch is that there are typically different sources of knowledge and evidence, and because stakeholders will often disagree which of these sources of evidence should inform policy. Such disagreements are common when dealing with complex ‘wicked’ policy problems.

As researchers have shown, policy researchers and policy workers often feel as though they live and work in different worlds. Policy researchers are often disappointed their research finding are being ignored, while policy workers tend to complain that policy research lacks practical relevance.

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What would you sacrifice to reduce health inequalities?

Neil McHugh

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article ‘Eliciting public values on health inequalities: missing evidence for policy windows?

What would you be willing to sacrifice to reduce health inequalities? What is the most you would be willing to give up for the introduction of a basic income? How does this compare to what you would trade off for an increase in Universal Credit? Does your support depend on the income and health implications of these policies? And on your own income and/or health status? At present, we do not know the answer to these questions. Arguably, providing answers could help create the conditions to improve current policies and/or introduce more radical policies for tackling health inequalities.

There is a health divide in the UK. Individuals who are poorer die earlier and have worse health than those who are better off. We have known this for many years. Yet despite health inequalities being a focus of research and policy, health gaps continue to widen. To tackle socio-economic inequalities in health we need macro policies that will change the socio-economic, cultural and environmental conditions of people’s lives. These policies could include, but are certainly not limited to, taking action to reduce homelessness, increasing the availability and accessibility of good quality and affordable social housing, introducing a basic income that supports a minimum income standard and implementing a more progressive taxation system. However, it is difficult to create the political conditions necessary to implement these types of policy. One form of evidence which could help facilitate policy change is knowledge of a specific type of public value – economic value – for non-health policies and their associated (non-)health outcomes. This evidence is currently missing from decision-making processes.

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What does the literature tell us about brokers, intermediaries and boundary spanners?

Jennifer Watling Neal, Brian Brutzman and Stephen Posner

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article ‘Understanding brokers, intermediaries, and boundary spanners: a multi-sectoral review of strategies, skills, and outcomes

Research evidence can help policymakers make decisions about society’s biggest challenges such as combating climate change, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and seeking racial justice. However, exchanges between policymakers and researchers are complex and often require the help of individuals and organisations serving in broker, intermediary or boundary spanner roles.

Although brokers, intermediaries and boundary spanners are recognised across the environment, health and education sectors, there have been limited opportunities to explore how literature across sectors characterises what these individuals and organisations do, what skills they need and what outcomes they produce. Therefore, in a recently published Evidence & Policy article, we reviewed 185 conceptual and review papers across the environment, health and education sectors with the goal of understanding the strategies, skills and expected outcomes of brokers, intermediaries and boundary spanners.

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On the origin of a new knowledge exchange species: engineering evidence in policy

Adam Cooper

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article ‘Engineering advice in policy making: a new domain of inquiry in evidence and policy’

Every day in government ministries, decisions are being made that shape the world. Literally, not figuratively. Decisions are made that can move mountains, make holes in the ground, cause buildings to appear, decide where other things can land, park or moor. This shaping involves a profession of highly trained and skilled individuals known commonly as ‘engineers’. Most engineers work in the private sector but a small fraction work in government, providing advice to policy officials and ministers. In the UK, engineers in government are a hidden species, commonly clustered into the STEM acronym. Science and engineering are often used interchangeably, which may explain why there is a body of research on science advice but nothing explicitly on engineering advice.

In addition to the common failure to distinguish between scientists and engineers in policy is the way in which science advice is commonly understood: as a regulatory function that helps monitor the presence of toxic elements in the environment, and work out what to do about them. The work of Jasanoff in her book The Fifth Branch is an example of this, and it also tends to exemplify the ‘at a distance’ approach of the majority of science advice research. Engineers aren’t normally involved in this kind of ‘regulatory science’ – in the UK at least they are involved in implementation (though of course engineering, if nothing else, is a discipline of standards, as Yates & Murphy show). Instead, discovering this new evidence for policy species took a more ethnographic moment to reveal it.

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Duelling narratives: historical knowledge mobilisation in the United States

Joel Malin and Dustin Hornbeck

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article ‘Historical knowledge mobilisation in a post-factual era in the United States

Public debates about history are nothing new, but in recent years – with the convergence of new media platforms and a tumultuous political atmosphere – we have noticed debates centred on duelling historical interpretations are becoming increasingly conspicuous and are engaging the public. In fact, both evidence-based and false, or misleading, historical claims are being brought forth all the time, apparently in efforts to influence key decisions and/or pushing for social change. This drive to mobilise historical knowledge, we also assume, reflects a shared understanding that our history and how we think about it matters – i.e. that different understandings of the past can help us navigate the present, pointing the way to different policies and, perhaps, a more just future.

We understand this strengthening phenomenon as historical knowledge mobilisation, and we set out to better understand its underpinnings, nature and impacts. We drew upon Ward’s (2017) ‘framework for knowledge mobilisers’ to analyse what and whose knowledge is being shared and how and why this is happening. Though we focused primarily on university-based mobilisers (academic historians and history-adjacent scholars), we also observed how non-academics actively inhabit this territory. Indeed, as we revealed, historians and non-historians alike are acting to mobilise the usable past in service of the present. Further, and on a partisan basis, we detect duelling preferences for ‘historical memories’ that either motivate progressive social change or favour policy inaction/reversal.

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When do public-academic partnerships lead to evidence use in policymaking?

Amy Preston Page and Christina Kang-Yi

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article ‘Public-academic partnerships to foster use of research evidence in improving youth outcomes: findings from document analysis

Child welfare and youth mental health services in the United States are complex and often disjointed. Government policies and funders increasingly require evidence-based care from these agencies. To meet this demand, partnerships between public care agencies and academic researchers have become popular in recent years. While these public-academic partnerships or ‘PAPs’ have demonstrated a positive impact on improving use of research evidence by public care agency leaders, we still have limited knowledge about how these partnerships work and which partnership characteristics may contribute to evidence use.

In our Evidence and Policy article, ‘Public-academic partnerships to foster use of research evidence in improving youth outcomes: findings from document analysis’, we analysed documents from 23 US PAPs aiming to improve mental health and promote well-being of youth aged 12–25 years. We found that the PAPs had diverse partnership goals including implementation and dissemination of research/evaluation evidence, information sharing, and prioritising and streamlining research processes. PAPs sustained longer than 10 years had more focused goals while PAPs 10 years or newer were engaged in more diverse goals. The majority of PAPs used journal articles, presentations and multimedia as dissemination strategies. Several PAPs had a large volume of material available online while others had very little.

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Community support versus health care services: time to change our definition of impact

Janet Harris and Alexis Foster

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article ‘Using knowledge brokering to produce community-generated evidence

Non-profit community anchor organisations in England typically provide a range of support to local people, including wellbeing support, advocacy, social activities, and training and employment advice. This array of services takes a wider perspective on the determinants of health than the approach taken within the National Health Service (NHS), which generally focuses on mental and physical ill health.

Despite the different approaches, the funding for community anchor organisations is often dependent on the impact they have on health outcomes. Is this a good basis for judging the value of holistic support?

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Maximising stakeholder engagement to prioritise future research

Natalie Kennie-Kaulbach, Jennifer E. Isenor and Sarah Kehoe

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article ‘Use of a knowledge exchange event strategy to identify key priorities for implementing deprescribing in primary healthcare in Nova Scotia, Canada

How can complex research results be shared with diverse stakeholder groups? How can stakeholders be engaged in generating future research priorities? How can diverse stakeholder voices be represented? The transfer of knowledge gained from research to stakeholders is becoming increasingly important for the uptake of results into policy and practice and to inform the direction of future research. We take this opportunity to share our perspectives on maximising stakeholder engagement and strategies for successful uptake.

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A ‘RECIPE’ with example principles and strategies for research partnerships

Femke Hoekstra, SCI Guiding Principles Consensus Panel and Heather L. Gainforth

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article ‘Principles and related strategies for spinal cord injury research partnership approaches: a qualitative study

How can we improve the use of research findings in policy, community and service settings? The answer could be simple: do research together with people that will use and can benefit from the research. In other words, do research in partnership with research users. While this sounds promising, building and maintaining meaningful partnerships is rarely so simple. Tokenistic approaches to research partnerships are a particular risk – this happens when research users are asked to endorse a research project over which they have little control.

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