• By Laura Whybra
  • Posted on Monday 20th July, 2015

How Australia’s decision makers use evidence

strong>In a study of Australian local government, public health decision makers said that they relied more on community views than on research evidence, and more on data produced internally than that published in peer-reviewed journals. What stops them from making decisions informed by more academic evidence?Respondents told researchers that a major barrier to using evidence was the lack of time. Low access to evidence and an inability to make sense of the evidence were also commonly cited. In general, respondents were quite confident in searching for, assessing the quality of and synthesizing evidence. But when it came to academic research, confidence varied. About a quarter reported high levels of confidence in searching for academic literature, while a third reported low confidence. These were among the findings of a recent Australian study into how decision makers use evidence. Surveys were completed by 135 individuals working in public health at 45 local governments, representing areas with varying budgets, geographical, and population sizes. In addition, 13 of the individuals were interviewed.Interestingly, these decision makers defined “evidence” very broadly. They saw academic research, local research and evaluation, policy documents, population level or local data, community views, collegiate expertise, and professional experience as various sources of evidence. Respondents said that evidence such as expert opinion and community views were more influential in policy decisions than research. Census data and local surveys were used to set priorities. However, strategy development relied more on collaboration and less on empirical evidence. Government reports, policy by-laws and non-government reports were considered most useful in decision-making. Similarly, councilors, public health managers and community members were most influential. Academics and academic research did not rank highly on either usefulness or influence, according to the survey. The researchers highlight some interesting links. When access to evidence was high, so was the confidence in using it. Those with training in using evidence also had higher confidence. Higher confidence was associated with more favorable organizational culture, and when the organizational culture supported evidence informed decision-making, the access to evidence was greater. Thus the authors believe that focusing on skill development in using evidence will improve the use of research evidence. Additionally, researchers must work closely with decision-makers, which could address the challenges of limited time and access to evidence. The study is important as it flags up points to address to enhance dissemination of research evidence. While there is an increase in research and acknowledgement of its importance, the understanding of how to use it in decision-making is still limited. ************Reference:Armstrong, R., Waters, E., Moore, L., Dobbins, M., Pettman, T., Burns, C., Swinburn, B., Anderson, L., & Petticrew, M. (2014). Understanding evidence: a statewide survey to explore evidence-informed public health decision-making in a local government setting. Implementation Science, 9(1): doi:10.1186/s13012-014-0188-7

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