At the Alliance we have been arguing for ages that the evidence community needs to learn more about the use of research by policymakers and professionals. What exactly helps people to use evidence? We need more research on research use.
Yes, that sounds a bit insular and ivory towerist. But it’s necessary. We must taste more of our own medicine, and aim to be evidence-based about evidence-based policy (sorry for more tortuous tautologies – but you get my point).
Which is why it’s great news that the Wellcome Trust has its first ever call to apply for grants of between £50k and £250k for Research on Research.
This follows work we did with the EPPI Centre at UCL, What Works Wellbeing and the Wellcome Trust to do a ‘review of reviews’ on the Science of Using Science to find out what we know and what we don’t know.
We found lots of gaps in our knowledge and a dire need for more research in this field. For decades, we have known that simply ‘getting research out the door’ through a linear pipeline of communications is not enough. People will not be persuaded simply by short sharp summaries of research findings, toolkits or policy briefings. As the former head of evaluation at the World Bank, Arianna Legovini, once put it, ‘dissemination is dead’. More mature models are needed of how research gets used. But a lot of models and methods seem to just describe the world, not understand ways to change it.
Admittedly there are many noble researchers who have been seeking deeper insights. There are dedicated peer-reviewed journals such as Evidence and Policy set up in 2005, or the open access, health-focused Implementation Science, created a year later in 2006, and well-established centres like Research Unit for Research Utilisation (RURU) set up in 2001.
But how many other academics, researchers or evaluators are familiar with these areas of research? I would suspect a very small number – and most of them in health or specialist centres, such as the highly respected RURU. These are niche pursuits. Made even more niche by the fact that there is little prestige or funding for research on research use.
The Wellcome Trust grants is the first time I have ever seen a dedicated UK funding stream for research use, at least outside of health. Other countries have had some opportunities. Since 2009, the William T. Grant Foundation in the US has had a stream of grants focused on learning about research use, although that was focused on youth policy, not wider social or health issues. Now the UK has such a funding stream thanks to Wellcome, formerly the biggest grant-giving charitable foundation in the world, until Bill and Melinda Gates came along.
If you’re interested, you need to get your skates on as the deadline for outline papers is 30 May 2018. It’s open to organisations outside the UK, in low and middle income countries, and you don’t have to be in a university – check their website for more details on eligibility. Let’s hope we get some outstanding applications so Wellcome continues with this stream of funding to help us grow our sector.