On the understanding that human beings are relational and storytelling animals, who make sense of the world through narrative and dialogue, we developed a story-telling approach to using evidence, which started by developing what has been described as an ‘enriched environment of care and learning’. Within such an environment, everyone involved should gain a sense of security, continuity, belonging, purpose, achievement and significance. To enable this, we started with their priorities and valued their evidence (i.e. practice knowledge, lived experience of older people and carers and organisational knowledge), alongside the research evidence, which we were careful not to impose on them. A challenge for the research team was how to do this.
Our university-policy maker partnership produces ‘fake’ abstracts of articles we’ve not written yet (on results we frankly don’t even know we’ve got) to loosen up thinking. It helps the team visualise pathways for policy action.
Ours is a tricky situation, politically-speaking. A health department is undertaking Australia’s largest ever scale-up of evidence-based childhood obesity programs into every school and childcare centre across the state. It costs $45m. They have an electronic data monitoring system in place. It’s already telling them that targets are being met. But rather than just rest on their success, they invite a team of researchers to do a behind-the-scenes, no-holds-barred ethnography. It could reveal the ‘real’ story of what’s goes on at the ground level.
Foolhardy or brilliant?
I’m opting for brilliant. But let me put this in context. New South Wales Health is renowned for being research-savvy. They invest heavily in research capacity building. I’m talking in-house research, strategic investment, partnership research and peer reviewed publications. The CVs of some of the policy makers in our partnership put some of us at universities to shame really.
How are you doing? You told me how you could not stop binging on COVID-19 news. So, I am sending you something different: “Risk, uncertainty and medical practice: changes in the medical professions following disaster” by Sudeepa Abeysinghe et al. I can see you wince, complaining that a paper written about a nuclear disaster that happened 9 years earlier has nothing to do with what we are undergoing now (note: this piece was written in March-April 2020). Well, I would argue that the paper is quite relevant today because it gives us perspective on how the medical professionals stretched their roles/responsibilities in times of crisis. You told me of your deep respect for these professionals, and I believe this paper will increase your understanding of their challenges and even deepen your appreciation.
The COVID-19 pandemic is shining a light on the roles that evidence and expertise can play in policy and practice. Understanding the nature of these debates, and developing tools to help decision-makers navigate them, is the focus of the Evidence & Policy community. In this post, we consider how our reflections on the field’s key insights help us understand the role evidence is playing in the UK’s response to the current pandemic: