Tips and tools: 29 November 2017.

Policy agencies’ take-up of strategies to increase their use of research are influenced by nine different mechanisms − including whether they can see the potential gain in being involved − a novel study suggests.

This study of how policy makers experienced an intervention that attempted to boost their use of research could help shape the design and implementation of further strategies for helping them to make greater use of research in decision-making processes, the researchers said.

The study, published in Health Research Policy and Systems, looked at how policy makers perceived an intervention trial known as SPIRIT ‒ Supporting Policy In health with Research: an Intervention Trial.  The trial is part of the work conducted by CIPHER, the Centre for Informing Policy in Health with Evidence from Research, to evaluate the impact of a suite of strategies designed to increase the capacity of health policy agencies to use research.

Researchers observed workshops, conducted interviews and used participant feedback forms in the realist process evaluation to explore how policy makers in six different health policy agencies perceived the trial, and what aspects of engagement and participation influenced their interaction with the various intervention strategies.

The nine mechanisms at play

They identified nine mechanisms that influenced the organisations’ engagement with the intervention:

  1. Accepting the premise − policy makers must agree with the study’s assumptions and be receptive to what it offers
  2. Self-determination − participants need to have scope and support to help shape the intervention to meet their need
  3. The “value proposition” – they need to be able to see potential gain in order to decide that participation is worthwhile
  4. “Getting good stuff”− they need to experience the intervention as providing useful ideas, resources and/or connections
  5. Self-efficacy – participants must believe that they can put ideas from the intervention into practice and achieve results
  6. Respect – they need to feel their work is understood and valued by the intervention
  7. Confidence – they must believe in the study’s integrity and view the use of local data as valid
  8. Persuasive leadership – managers and expert presenters need to model and champion the intervention’s goals
  9. Facilitation by strategic insiders – people appointed to support the intervention in their agencies must harness insider knowledge to ‘market’ the intervention in locally meaningful ways.

The researchers said that while the nine mechanisms were a provisional indication of how policy makers respond to strategies or programs to increase their use of research, they could offer lessons for future interventions and for other contexts.

“The findings add to the existing knowledge by surfacing evidence about how policy makers perceived and engaged with different aspects of an intervention trial designed to increase the extent to which they use research in their work,” the authors wrote.

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