Impact Practitioners

Conceptualising the quality of use of research evidence

By 06/04/2023

This 12-page academic paper by a team of Australian and UK researchers focuses on studying and conceptualising the quality of research evidence use. It presents six principles for conceptualising the quality use of research evidence, which are based on a systematic review and narrative synthesis of 112 resources from the health, social care, education and policy sectors. 

The paper marks the start of the debate around quality use and provides a good theoretical grounding for further discussions. It can broaden your understanding of how research is used and what it means to use evidence well. 

Drawing on the insights from over a hundred studies, the paper establishes six initial principles for conceptualising the quality of research evidence use. They are:

1. Account for the role of practice-based expertise and evidence in context
Evidence does not stand alone – research users (decision-makers, practitioners) exercise their judgement when using evidence, which is based on their experience and context. We should therefore think about the complexities of using evidence in different professional contexts. 

2. Identify the sector-specific conditions that support evidence use
To help us use evidence well, we have so-called ‘key enablers’ such as resources, tools, attitudes and skills. These enablers are different in different disciplines and sectors. We should therefore aim to understand and identify the enablers in a given practice and analyse how they can support the conditions for quality research evidence use. 

3. Consider how quality use develops, improves and can be evaluated over time
The paper stresses the need for ongoing feedback to support improvement at both the individual and organisational levels. 

Impact Practitioners quote "evidence use is a dynamic and complex undertaking at every stage in the process"

4. Determine the salient stages of the evidence use process
We need to remember that evidence gets used differently depending on the stage of policymaking (identifying problems, implementation, decision-making, etc). The nature and significance of these stages can vary considerably between sectors and contexts, which we need to take into account when thinking about the quality of research use.

5. Consider whether to focus on processes and/or outcomes of evidence use
We need to decide whether the quality of research use is related to and reflected by the processes of the use and/or the outcomes of the use, and how the different focuses impact the conceptualisation.

6. Consider the scale or level of evidence use within a system
We should think about how the quality of use might look different at different levels of systems (individual level, team level, systems level) and how it is enabled or eroded by the different influences across the levels of the system we work in.

Overall, this resource is a thought-provoking publication marking the start of thinking and articulating what it means to use research evidence well. It highlights the need for learning more about how to support and make the best use of research evidence. Additionally, the paper provides useful lessons about how practitioners in health, education, social care and policy currently use evidence and what it means for them.

This article is part of our initiative, R2A Impact Practitioners. To find out more, please click here.

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