SPIRIT study on use of research in policy sparks discussion

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

This paper was recently ranked in the top 5% of all research outputs ever tracked by Altmetric, which provides an index of the online attention received by research papers, including circulation and discussion on social media and coverage in the news media. 

What was studied?

This paper describes the development of the SPIRIT Action Framework ‒a ‘field guide’ to help steer intervention studies designed to increase the use of research in policy.

The Framework was designed to underpin an intervention and evaluation study known as SPIRIT ‒ Supporting Policy In health with Research: an Intervention Trial. It is part of the work being 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.

The Framework was co-developed by a team of policy makers, researchers and knowledge exchange specialists and led by the Sax Institute. It involved a review of the literature to identify and categorise factors likely to influence the use of research in policy, the development of the Action Framework, and an examination of its compliance with criteria of a useful action framework.

What are the key findings?

The Framework outlines four steps along a pathway to research use, influence and impact.

  1. A catalyst or prompt is needed to initiate the process of engaging with or using research
  2. The agency’s response will be determined by its capacity to engage with research, incluidng the value it places on research, the tools and systems it has to support research engagement and the skills and knowledge of staff
  3. Research engagement action will be dependent on an agency’s capacity to access and appraise research findings, commission or undertake research to generate new findings, or interact with researchers
  4. Research use: where engagement with research has been more effective, there is greater likelihood that the research will inform policy making.

The researchers found the SPIRIT Action Framework provides a pragmatic approach to the development and testing of evidence-based interventions.

It could be used to identify which intervention strategies were most likely to be effective, and to guide knowledge development and practical decisions.

What was the conclusion?

The SPIRIT Action Framework should be seen as the beginning of a process of articulating and testing causal pathways in the use of research by policy agencies, the researchers said.

“The most important test of the Framework will be its value to policy agencies in selecting which strategies are likely to be most effective for them in building their research responsivity, and its usefulness to researchers in testing new approaches and organising new knowledge,” they concluded.

The paper

Redman, S, Turner T, Davies H, Williamson A, Haynes A, Brennan S, Milat A, O’Connor D, Blyth F, Jorm L, Green S. The SPIRIT Action Framework: A structured approach to selecting and testing strategies to increase the use of research in policy. Social Science & Medicine 2015; 136‒37, 147‒56.