Latest news: 10 October 2016.

The Sax Institute’s Evidence Checks rapid reviews are frequently put to use by policy agencies to help set priorities, policies and programs, new research confirms.

Gai Moore, Principal Analyst in the Institute’s Knowledge Exchange division, presented the findings of an analysis of how the rapid reviews are used to the Australasian Implementation Conference in Melbourne this month.

Evidence Checks are reviews of existing research and evidence brokered and managed by the Institute and conducted by expert researchers to address policy makers’ specific questions on a wide array of topics.

Recent Evidence Checks include a review of the impact of changes in liquor trading hours on alcohol-related harm; factors relating to patient experiences in Australian hospitals and a review of the effectiveness of interventions to reduce the transmission of sexually transmissible infections.

Of the 139 Evidence Check reviews conducted by the Institute over the past decade for which follow-up data was available, 96% were used by the commissioning agencies, with a further 3% planned for use, Ms Moore told the conference.

“That is a really pleasing finding,” she said “What it really demonstrates is a very high commitment by agencies that commission the reviews to use those findings.”

“We can see that commissioning the review is a committed investment, which is put into action in almost all cases.”

Culture shift towards using evidence

Ms Moore said there had been a significant culture shift towards greater use of research evidence in decision making since the Evidence Check program was launched a decade ago.

“This research points to a shift in the culture of governments, which are now committing resources to accessing evidence from research and using that evidence in the decision-making process in a number of ways.”

The research found that 89% of Evidence Checks for which there was follow-up data had been used in multiple ways.

In 22% of cases, Evidence Checks were used in priority setting, or targeting where resources are invested, while a similar proportion were used by agencies to help design and deliver policies and programs.

The findings also showed that 14% of Evidence Checks were used in interagency processes, in which more than one agency came together to seek evidence to aid joint decision-making on a direction, policy or program, while 11% were used to evaluate alternative, real-world solutions to specific questions.

Other uses include communicating with stakeholders, confirming thinking or ideas, designing or conducting research, informing clinical guidelines and protocols, and assessing the extent of a problem.

Ms Moore said the findings suggested that despite the fact that policy contexts were complex and ever-changing, rapid reviews were well-suited to providing the evidence needed to inform decision-making.

She said the study also showed that the way in which Evidence Checks were used varied significantly across different agencies, and developing greater understanding of those differences would help the Institute’s ongoing work in refining how best to target the Evidence Check program.

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