Agencies turn to Evidence Checks to find solutions to policy problems

This series showcases the contributions of Sax Institute researchers to papers published in peer-reviewed literature

What was studied?

The researchers examined 74 rapid reviews commissioned by health policy agencies through the Sax Institute’s Evidence Check program between 2006 and 2011, looking at what prompted policy makers to commission the reviews and how they intended to use them.

What are the key findings?

The majority of policy makers were prompted to seek evidence reviews by questions arising as part of planned policy or decision making process (61%). It was less common for them to look for evidence because of an unplanned event such as natural disaster (11%), while 8% were prompted to seek evidence through their exposure to emerging thinking about systems, policies or programs, or becoming aware of new approaches to policy problems or solutions.

The reviews were most commonly aimed at helping to identify alternative solutions to a policy problem (51%) and to evaluate alternative solutions in light of a particular context (36%). About one in 10 reviews (11%) were commissioned to help the agency determine the evidence base for an existing policy position.

Primarily, policy makers reported that they intended to use reviews to determine the details of a policy or program (77%), or to inform high-level planning or priority-setting processes (16%). Only 4% of policy makers reported that they commissioned a review primarily to make a case for funding, and no reviews were commissioned to inform a public position.

The study found the way that central government departments such as Treasury or Department of Premier and Cabinet intended to use rapid reviews differed from frontline government departments, such as Health or Housing. Central government departments were five times more likely to indicate that they intended to use the rapid review in policy agenda setting and four times more likely to commission rapid reviews to test new developments in thinking about policy problems and solutions, and consider their potential contribution to policy.

The majority of policy makers (73%) planned to use their review to inform action in their own department or agency, and 17% wanted to use their review in interjurisdictional or interagency contexts.  Just 7% of reviews were commissioned to be used with external agencies only.

What was the conclusion?

The study concluded that most health policy makers commissioned rapid reviews in response to questions arising in planned policy processes, and to identify alternative solutions to policy problems. The authors suggested that more research into the actual use of rapid reviews would further advance understanding of how and when they are most usefully employed.

The paper

Moore, GM, Redman S, Turner T, Haines, M. Rapid reviews in health policy: a study of intended use in the New South Wales’ Evidence Check programme. Evidence & Policy; 2016:12(4);505‒519

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