To achieve national objectives for improved population health, more widespread adoption of evidence-informed public health has been recommended. Evidence-informed public health requires effective translation and utilisation of research evidence into public health practice and policy. Research evidence is only one type of evidence but has the advantages of greater rigour, relevance, and independence compared to some other types of evidence (e.g. surveillance data, community reports, government reports). The conduct and publication of research evidence involves detailed documentation of methods, peer review and external scrutiny, resulting in rigour and openness. These processes contribute to its systematic nature, help provide a means to judge the trustworthiness of findings and offer the potential to assess the validity and/or credibility of one claim compared to another. Although evidence-informed public health policy should utilise a range of forms of evidence, in this policy evidence brief, we explicitly focus on the utilisation of research evidence.
Research that informs public health is conducted with the expectation that it advances knowledge and eventually translates into improved population health. Indeed, governments invest in health research in the hope of benefits, not only in terms of academic excellence but also in societal impacts on health and wellbeing. Despite this, the translation of research evidence into practice and policy remains relatively limited. The magnitude of the research to practice and policy gap has stimulated governments and research funders worldwide to focus more on the translation of research into practice and policy and to increase the efficiency of resource allocation.
Responding to calls for increased evidence-informed public health and increased impacts from research, the aims of this policy evidence brief are to:
- Present the main barriers to research evidence translation and utilisation in public health
- Explore strategies that can address these barriers
- Suggest policy options that might lead to more effective research evidence translation and increased utilisation of research evidence in practice and policy, to improve population health outcomes.
In this policy evidence brief, we focus on policy options for consideration by the Australian Government Department of Health. However, we acknowledge that improving research evidence translation and utilisation also requires action from the whole system, including other federal government departments, state and local governments, and sectors (e.g., training of researchers in how to effectively synthesise and disseminate their work to a range of audiences). Additionally, the policy options presented in this brief cannot address the identified barriers in isolation. These options need to be implemented as a part of a system-wide approach that is necessary to tackle the overarching problem of poor translation and underutilisation of research evidence in public health.