In the age of evidence-based decision-making, where can education decision makers really turn for evidence?

Fiona Hollands and Venita Holmes

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article, Comparing evidence on the effectiveness of reading resources from expert ratings, practitioner judgements, and research repositories’.

In 20172018, a large school district in the U.S. was threatened by the state education agency with closure of 23 struggling elementary schools unless it could improve students’ performance on state-mandated assessments. The district’s Office of Elementary Curriculum and Development immediately tried to determine which reading resources (reading programmes, assessments, online tools, book collections, and professional development supports) were available at each school and to assess their effectiveness at improving student reading proficiency. To help with this evaluation task, our research-practice team explored various options for quickly providing suitable evidence on the effectiveness of each of 23 reading resources used at one or more of these schools. We expected to find reasonable consistency across multiple sources of information that we could use to help guide the district’s actions. The results were not quite as expected.

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How can we support evidence-informed policymaking on the African continent?

Joseph Adu, Sebastian Gyamfi, Ebenezer Martin-Yeboah and Mark Fordjour Owusu

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article ‘Knowledge translation platforms to support African evidence-informed policies: challenges and progress’.

Evidence-based policy is key to reducing public health problems worldwide. The late 2000s witnessed a breakthrough in maternal healthcare delivery in Southern Africa by way of a policy initiative that allowed the use of magnesium sulphate to prevent pregnancy induced hypertension-related deaths among pregnant women. Pregnancy induced hypertension was identified as the single most important cause of death among pregnant women in the Africa sub-region. This feat was attained through the concerted efforts of a team of international researchers, local researchers, health practitioners (academic obstetricians) and policymakers from Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa who harnessed their individual knowledge into a policy to address this long existing health scare.

In our review, we found that the intervention by EVIPNet (in making giant strides in the fight against malaria in Africa) improved the capacities of knowledge among institutions on the continent through publication of policy briefs and peer-reviewed articles – resulting in an increment in Africa’s share in global research. This effort, apart from creating awareness about the health challenges on the continent, also served as a springboard to attract researchers, policymakers and other stakeholders as a community of actors championing knowledge translation in Africa.

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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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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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What is peer learning and how can it advance the implementation of evidence-based practices?

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article, ‘Examining peer learning as a strategy for advancing uptake of evidence-based practices: a scoping review‘.

S. Kathleen Worton

The implementation of evidence-based practices can enhance the quality and effectiveness of supports in sectors such as social services and healthcare. Peer learning is a valuable but often overlooked strategy to help those adopting a new practice gain the knowledge and skills they need to implement it successfully.

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Are good evaluations used more than bad ones?

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article, ‘Does evaluation quality enhance evaluation use?

Pirmin Bundi, Kathrin Frey and Thomas Widmer

Evaluations provide important information to improve public services, but only if they yield valid and reliable findings – so we believed for a long time. Evaluation communities have therefore established certain criteria that should define evaluation quality. Yet against prior studies on evaluation utilisation, we show that evaluation quality measured by the criteria is not necessarily associated with evaluation use, but rather linked to the perception of quality and impact of the evaluation. Evaluators should adjust their communications strategies accordingly.

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Advocates (often) make good research brokers (but sometimes don’t)

This blog post is based on the Evidence & Policy article, ‘What do advocates want from policy research? Evidence from elite surveys‘.

Jake Haselswerdt and Elizabeth Rigby

Efforts to advance evidence-based policy quickly recognise the need for ‘research brokers’ to take on the critical role of linking the separate worlds of research and policy. Research brokers work in a range of organisations to transform, translate and package complex research findings into ideas and formats that can be used by policymakers, as well as facilitate meetings and establish relationships between researchers and policymakers. These research brokers are typically engaged in shaping the policy agenda, identifying promising solutions and influencing policy decisions. Yet, we know little about who plays that role, nor how they think about the evidence-policy connection.

Of particular interest are advocates working in foundations, think tanks, associations, lobbying firms and non-profit organisations pursuing specific policy objectives. These advocates are well-positioned to serve as research brokers since they are actively involved in most policy formulation and implementation processes and policymakers often use them as an important source of information. Yet advocates are also participants in the policy process who work to advance their own positions and preferences (and those of employers/clients). Research dissemination is just one of many tools advocates use to advance their policy goals.

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Hidden coalitions: are you acting as an analyst, advocate or applicator in your approach to evidence and policy?

Jasper Montana and James Wilsdon

After a period in which the onward march of evidence-informed decision-making appeared to be faltering in countries such as the US and UK, the acute uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic have triggered a fresh explosion of engagement with evidence and policy interactions – from diverse disciplinary, sectoral and institutional perspectives.

It’s become common to see this described as an evidence ‘movement’ committed to strengthening links between science and policy – and in a superficial sense it is. But such labels can obscure subtle yet important distinctions in the way different actors understand problems in evidence-policy interactions and frame potential solutions.

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