Date Published: March 7, 2018
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Steve R. Makkar, Abby Haynes, Anna Williamson, Sally Redman, Pablo Dorta-González.
There are calls for policymakers to make greater use of research when formulating policies. Therefore, it is important that policy organisations have a range of tools and systems to support their staff in using research in their work. The aim of the present study was to measure the extent to which a range of tools and systems to support research use were available within six Australian agencies with a role in health policy, and examine whether this was related to the extent of engagement with, and use of research in policymaking by their staff. The presence of relevant systems and tools was assessed via a structured interview called ORACLe which is conducted with a senior executive from the agency. To measure research use, four policymakers from each agency undertook a structured interview called SAGE, which assesses and scores the extent to which policymakers engaged with (i.e., searched for, appraised, and generated) research, and used research in the development of a specific policy document. The results showed that all agencies had at least a moderate range of tools and systems in place, in particular policy development processes; resources to access and use research (such as journals, databases, libraries, and access to research experts); processes to generate new research; and mechanisms to establish relationships with researchers. Agencies were less likely, however, to provide research training for staff and leaders, or to have evidence-based processes for evaluating existing policies. For the majority of agencies, the availability of tools and systems was related to the extent to which policymakers engaged with, and used research when developing policy documents. However, some agencies did not display this relationship, suggesting that other factors, namely the organisation’s culture towards research use, must also be considered.
There have been increased calls worldwide for policymakers to make greater use of research when formulating and implementing health policies in order to promote more sustainable and equitable health spending and use of resources, minimise health inequities, and improve health outcomes on a global scale [1–8]. Unfortunately, the use of research in health policymaking is less than optimal [4, 5, 9–16].
This is the first study to examine the extent to which Australian health agencies have tools and systems in place to support the use of research in policymaking. Having identified which tools and systems were present in six agencies we then explored their relationship with policymakers’ actual use of research in the development of policy documents. The results showed that, in general, agency executives reported a moderate to high level of organisational capacity to support their staff in using research in policymaking. There were both commonalities and differences between agencies in which tools and systems were available, shedding light on areas for potential improvement. In general, where agencies had extensive tools and systems in place to support research use, policymakers in those agencies displayed moderate to extensive efforts to engage with and/or use research in policymaking. However, two agencies displayed an inversion of research use capacity and actual engagement/use which indicates other mechanisms at work. In the discussion below we discuss the capacity domains that were particularly well developed across agencies, as well as those domains which could be further strengthened. We then discuss the relationship between these capacity domains and policymakers’ research engagement and use in policymaking and the implications for our understanding of the relationship between organisational capacity and research use.