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Dissemination Centre

Evidence at a glance on how commissioners use research

Most health and care organisations aim to base decisions on the best available evidence. This is enshrined as a principle for commissioners in the Health and Social Care Act of 2012. Research will play only a small part in decisions that are made. Service leaders will draw on context (including available resources) and values, as well as data of different kinds.  

Core findings and questions arising from the research

  • Managers of all backgrounds find it hard to make sense of and apply evidence in their everyday work
  • Studies show that managers tend to make less use of formal research. They value examples and experience of others, as well as local information and intelligence
  • Senior managers rely on a small conversational circle and trusted colleagues to identify and interpret evidence
  • Evidence does not speak for itself. Organisations need skills, not just technical around critical appraisal capacity, but also to engage experts and frame research for different audiences
  • One study evaluating a service providing evidence briefings for commissioners found poor uptake and use of research for decision-making
  • Having skilled individuals, like public health staff, on the spot to contextualise and interpret evidence helps managers use evidence when making decisions about systems and services
  • Timing is key - having good enough evidence at the right time trumps perfect research which arrives too late for decision makers to use

Questions for researchers

  • How have you involved service planners or leaders in your project - from determining the research topic and question through to dissemination activities?
  • Are your study findings presented in a format which will appeal to managers (like using case studies, quotes and examples to bring the research to life)?
  • Have you made use of toolkits and best practice in communicating research? 
  • Have you looked for opportunities to present your findings face-to-face to relevant audiences and meetings of managers? Do you know what trusted sources they use (such as thinktanks or professional bodies) and how you could work with them?
  • Does your research address the context (local and national) for managers, including policy drivers?
  • Does your research have anything to offer managers in their quality improvement or service transformation activities?

Questions for staff and commissioning organisations

  • Do we pause when making strategic decisions to see if and how evidence could be used?
  • How can we best bring research together with other evidence (such as health needs or population data) to make decisions?
  • Who could help us inside or outside the organisation to make sense of research for particular important problems?
  • Can staff access training or expertise about understanding and using evidence? What library or information services can we use?
  • Do we share our learning, including unexpected results of service changes, with others?


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