evidence-based issues

Jul 25, 2011

Evidence into policy: what works?

In Sydney tomorrow, Gary Banks, chairman of the Productivity Commission, is due to officially launch the

Melissa Sweet — Health journalist and <a href=Croakey co-ordinator" class="author__portrait">

Melissa Sweet

Health journalist and Croakey co-ordinator

In Sydney tomorrow, Gary Banks, chairman of the Productivity Commission, is due to officially launch the Centre for Informing Policy in Health with Evidence from Research.

Professor Sally Redman, the chief investigator of the Centre, explains below what it aims to do.

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Building an evidence base for informed health policy

Professor Sally Redman writes:

Sir Humphrey: Now in Stage Two you go on to discredit the evidence … You say it leaves some important questions unanswered, that much of the evidence is inconclusive, that the figures are open to other interpretations, that certain findings are contradictory, and that some of the main conclusions have been questioned. …

Minister Hacker: But to make accusations of this sort — you’d have to go through it with a fine-tooth comb?

Sir Humphrey: No, no, no. You can say all these things without reading it.

I have to admit to having lifted the above gem, from the BBC’s classic Yes Minister series, from a recent speech by Productivity Commission chairman Gary Banks to a South Australian economics think tank on the topic of “Evidence and social policy” – in this case relating to gambling.

Gary Banks has argued consistently and passionately over many years for the use of evidence in policymaking, not only because it helps to achieve the best results for the Australian community, but also because it helps to get good policy implemented when there is opposition to it, as illustrated with great humour and insight above.

As part of his campaign to get more evidence into policy, Gary Banks will help us launch an exciting new initiative in the health care sector – a National Health and Medical Research Council funded Centre of Excellence in increasing the use of research in health policy.

Governments across the world have recognised that the use of evidence from research in health policy can improve health outcomes and optimise resource allocation.

But there is little empirical evidence about what does and doesn’t work to increase the use of evidence from research in policy.

Called CIPHER (Centre for Informing Policy in Health with Evidence from Research), the new centre will help health agencies understand how they use evidence from research currently and to choose the most effective strategies for the future.

The centre is a collaboration of seven institutions, including the Sax Institute, University of Western Sydney, St Andrews University in Scotland, The University of Newcastle, the Cochrane Collaboration, University of Technology Sydney and The University of NSW, and will examine what will work best for policy agencies in accessing and using evidence from research.

CIPHER will work with more than 20 policy agencies to explore the kinds of strategies that may help improve use of evidence in policy. The centre will provide, for the first time, rigorous tests of the impact of different approaches to using evidence in policy.

There is considerable national and international interest in this work.

It is hoped that the new centre will help to ensure that health policy decisions, which often have a crucial and lasting impact on the health and wellbeing of Australians, are based on clear evidence about what works best, and what is affordable, in a health system constrained by competing demands from a growing and ageing population.

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