On 7 November leaders of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the College of Policing and the Chartered College of Teaching met at the Royal Society to sign the Declaration on Evidence, written by Professor Jonathan Shepherd, which had previously been agreed by their respective boards.
At this assembly, convened and hosted by the Alliance for Useful Evidence and Professor Shepherd, the Colleges declared, publicly, their expectation that all their members take full account of evidence in their daily decisions and advice, and undertook to support the rigorous evaluation of new interventions.
That the leaders of over 20 professional bodies attended the event, chaired by Lord O’Donnell, is hugely encouraging. Many new contacts were made. Ways in which the declaration has been enacted in these institutions will be documented.
Below you can read Professor Shepherd’s speech from the event. You can read the declaration in full here.
“This is a unique meeting of leaders of professional bodies in healthcare, teaching and policing. Teachers, police officers, doctors and dentists make up a sizable proportion of the UK workforce. It’s no exaggeration to say that the influence of the institutions represented here extends to more than one million professionals across the UK and more widely.
The fact you’re all here though, is testament to the great importance of evidence for our professions and for the public we all serve.
In the last few years, the model represented by the medical Royal Colleges and the engineering institutions has been applied for the first time in policing, teaching and probation. An important reason for this is that these institutions have found and sustained ways to advance standards on the basis of reliable evidence. They mobilise evidence. They are a tried and tested means of improving practice and policy by responding to new evidence.
But we’ve learnt through thousands of careful trials that many seemingly great ideas actually don’t work. Many innovations turn out to be wasteful, and to do more harm than good. We’ve learnt through much toil to accept this sobering reality. Successful action in policing and teaching, as much as in medicine, flows from knowing what doesn’t work as well as what does.
Today therefore, by signing this declaration about evidence, we proclaim our resolve to keep vital the professional bodies which serve us so well, and which are flexible instruments for securing ordered progress.
So how do our Colleges ensure that professional practice is based on the best evidence? First, we do this through continuously honed assessments which lead to career advancing College membership and fellowship. Without demonstrating knowledge of relevant evidence and the skills to apply it in practice, success is unlikely. We also do this through publication of evidence-based policy statements and through institutional support of career-long professional development. Colleges’ peer reviewed journals, profession-leading education programmes and networks of advisors are further ways in which Colleges promote evidence.
Importantly, our Colleges also provide powerful incentives for professionals to excel – prestigious prizes and medals, eponymous honorary lectureships and professorships, and citations for national pay awards and national honours. These are often awarded for excellence in evaluation and development and then, through personal example, for pioneering and promoting better practice based on this.
Our declaration today also includes commitment to support rigorous evaluation – in other words, to support the generation of new evidence. This too is not new. Professional bodies have a long history of awarding research fellowships, often co-funded by partner organisations, so trainees and others can take time out of busy service jobs to test new approaches – in and with universities.
Our Colleges also provide welcoming professional homes – attractive environments in which professionals engage with the latest evidence and guidance and decide whether and how it should change their practice. These don’t just exist behind hallowed portals in our capital cities. They can be just as conducive in the form of Webinars, WhatsApp Groups and local journal clubs in police stations, hospitals, general practices and schools for example.
As communities with a cause – that cause is continuous improvement – we encourage and support evidence adoption by all these means.”
Views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of the Alliance for Useful Evidence. Remember you can join us (it’s free and open to all) and find out more about the how we champion the use of evidence in social policy and practice.