Making the Most of What We’ve Got

Written by: Pippa Coutts, Evidence Change Programme Lead, The Alliance for Useful Evidence

Published: 21/07/2015

Using existing evidence is vital to inform good decision-making and priority setting.

“Evidence..encourages us to learn how to be decisive and at the same time to keep an open mind.” Ruth Levitt , 2013.

The Use of Evidence

Over the years, governments have invested in policies and programmes that have little or no effect.

For example, in the USA, “rigorous evaluations typically find that around 75 percent of programs or practices that are intended to help people do better at school or at work have little or no effect ”. Rob Haskins (1)

Funding programmes that don’t work is not only money misspent but may even cause harm.  For example, 2015 election manifestos made sweeping statements about the causes of crime, often implying that criminals are a distinct group who need to be changed, which can negatively impact on individuals and lead to over simplistic policies.

While research evidence is only part of the jigsaw, and it’s important to consider the ‘Six Ws’ (2), increasing the use of evidence in social policy will develop more effective services.

Encouraging Evidence Use

Important channels for the exchange of evidence are informal networks and personal contact. As a recent blog from The World Bank highlights: “relationships matter”. For example, The Nice Way, states in health care, doctors rely on other doctors as a source of information and method of promoting innovation adoption. (3)

Yet given the need to further promote the use of research in practice, Nesta has set up an open source network of people interested in presenting and assimilating evidence: the Alliance for Useful Evidence. It has a particular interest in sharing evidence across the UK, and promoting the use of good quality, appropriate evidence.

Cross UK Evidence Exchange

The Evidence Exchange project began in 2015 in response to research from the Carnegie UK Trust and Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which found that policymakers and practitioners, wanted to learn from other UK jurisdictions (outside of the one they work in).

The project has been sharing evidence between policy makers (around wellbeing) and practitioners (on evidence based interventions tackling alcohol misuse). Top tips for sharing learning across the UK have just been published in a short blog.

We are seeking further examples, from the third sector, of evidence use . Good practice from across the UK will be included in a new guide and we’d be interested to hear if you have examples of where you have used evidence from another part of the UK in your work.

Please share some Scottish based case studies here.

Good and Useful Evidence

Not all evidence is of the same standard, rigor or use, and The Alliance for Useful Evidence is supporting learning on differing types of evidence. We are hosting a webinar on using standards of evidence across the UK, with speakers including Stephen Bediako (The Social Innovation Partnership), Steven Marwick (Evaluation Support Scotland) and Aongus O’Keeffe (Inspiring Impact NI). There are a few places left and you can sign up for free.

Finally, if you are interested in how evidence can be used within your work or you want to debate, “What is Good Evidence”, please don’t hesitate to be in touch with the Alliance for Useful Evidence.

This viewpoint was written by Pippa Coutts who has a long standing interest and involvement in the development of effective health and social care services in Scotland. Pippa is the Evidence Change Programme Lead at the Alliance for Useful Evidence.

1 Rob Haskins is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and coauthor of Show Me the Evidence: Obama’s Fight for Rigor and Results in Social Policy (Brookings, 2014)
2 The Six Ws what works for who, when and where and with whom. Geoff Mulgan Nesta Blog, March 2015
3 Stokes, K., Barker, R. and Pigott, R. (2104) ‘Which doctors take up promising ideas? New insights from open data.’ London: Nesta.

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