In this blog, the Alliance’s Jonathan Breckon discusses how an ‘evidence-informed’ approach can bridge the gap between research and practice.
How do we decide what works? Teachers, police officers, social workers, healthcare professionals and many others across the field of social practice face this decision on a daily basis. A range of strategies will be adopted to answer this question, such as drawing on experience, consulting with colleagues, or researching an initiative that is being used elsewhere.
There also exists a prolific amount of research and evidence across social policy and practice, which can be used concurrently to help inform practice and to decide what works. But how can we make this readily accessible and empower professionals with the evidence available?
A new paper published today by the Alliance for Useful Evidence, Evidence for the Frontline, explores how the two worlds of research and practice can operate with greater synergy and interaction. The paper looks at the individual elements of an effective “evidence ecosystem” – the production, synthesis, transformation and implementation of evidence – while considering what can be done to integrate these elements more coherently.
The paper advocates an “evidence-informed practice” approach rather than “evidence-based”, in recognition of the fact that there is a huge amount of knowledge that is not captured by research. Key recommendations in the report include the building in of time, skills and resources within practice to support research use. Professional bodies, such as the College of Social Work or the College of Teachers for example, are well placed to support the sharing of expertise and knowledge between academic research and practitioners.
There is a case for successful schemes such as the Economic and Social Research Council’s knowledge exchange opportunities (where social scientists and individuals or organisations share learning, ideas and experiences) to be expanded to increase researchers’ access to frontline practice. Likewise, more opportunities for practitioners to be involved in research and development partnerships with universities, policymakers and think tanks helps to feedback “frontline” experience and views. Coupled with this is the need for recognition within public services of leadership that supports and enables the use of research in frontline practice.
The gaps between research and practice across public services are difficult to bridge; research is too often seen as something that happens outside professional practice, rather than the other way around. Evidence for the Frontline explores how these gaps can be addressed, and includes practical recommendations for practitioners, researchers and policymakers. However, at the crux of the report is the practitioner. To be really useful, evidence needs to be robust, valuable and accessible so that practitioners are empowered to make informed decisions on the frontline.
This blog originally appeared on the Guardian Public Leaders Network on Thursday 27 June 2013. To read the original version of this blog, please click here.
The views are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the Alliance for Useful Evidence.