Partnership Centres explore new ways to use evidence in policy

30 March 2017

The NHMRC’s three Partnership Centres have a unique opportunity to contribute to the science behind increasing the uptake of evidence in policy and practice, a workshop was told.

Prevention Centre Director Professor Andrew Wilson and CDPC Director Professor Susan Kurrle.

The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, the Cognitive Decline Partnership Centre and the new Partnership Centre for Health System Sustainability are funded by the NHMRC, industry partners and government agencies to conduct research that academics, policy makers and practitioners co-produce.

The workshop brought together representatives from the three Partnership Centres and international experts to discuss practical ways to encourage the use of evidence in policy. Dr Bev Holmes, Acting President and CEO of the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research in Canada, told the workshop that while there was a body of scientific literature around ‘knowledge mobilisation’, few organisations could draw on their practical experiences in the same way as Partnership Centres.

“You are doing the work and contributing to the science of knowledge mobilisation,” she said. “It is time to think of the larger picture, to … talk to the community about what we can do better.”

Only eight to 15 per cent of research is ever used in policy and practice, and it currently takes an average 17 years between the development of research and its use. The problem is even worse when trying to achieve change in complex systems like the health system.

“In many cases we have the evidence, we know what we should be doing, but we are not doing it,” said Prevention Centre Director, Professor Andrew Wilson.

“We know the biggest gains we can get will be from implementing what we already know, so we have to make sure part of the research agenda reinforces the need to use the evidence we have in more effective ways. Yet there are more examples of where evidence is being ignored in policy than where it’s being effectively used.”

Applying knowledge mobilisation strategies

The Prevention Centre Deputy Director Associate Professor Sonia Wutzke said the Centre was using a range of strategies including co-production, partnerships, engagement, knowledge integration, capacity building and adaptive learning to boost the uptake of evidence in policy.

The Cognitive Decline Partnership Centre is building communication and knowledge translation strategies into the design of each of its research activities, Director Professor Susan Kurrle said. A key aspect of this is involving consumers at every step of the research process, from development to implementation and dissemination.

Workshop participants applied their strategies to a knowledge mobilisation framework developed by experts Dr Holmes and Professor Diane Finegood, a systems science expert from Simon Fraser University.

Professor Finegood said the complexity of the health and knowledge mobilisation systems made it difficult to know which set of strategies would have sufficient impact.

“Systems thinking” could provide a framework for selecting a set of complementary strategies that would intervene at different levels, from the deeply held beliefs governing a system to its structure and operating elements.

“There is a dearth of work being done that shows solutions to complex problems with empirical evidence. Your contribution to the science of complexity is very important,” Professor Finegood said.

Other key strategies suggested in the workshop included:

  • Recognise that knowledge encompasses both research and practice
  • Set shared goals, vision and values
  • Build trust and respect among stakeholders through fostering relationships
  • Consider incentives and inhibitors that inspire collaboration and manage dissent
  • Provide adequate resources (funding and time) to support leadership and strategic communications
  • Embrace failure: aim for continuous improvement.

Helen Signy, Senior Communications Officer