Monthly Archives: April 2017

Evidence-based policymaking is not like evidence-based medicine, so how far should you go to bridge the divide between evidence and policy?

Cairney, P. et al.  Health Research Policy & Systems, 2017; 15: 35

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There is extensive health and public health literature on the ‘evidence-policy gap’, exploring the frustrating experiences of scientists trying to secure a response to the problems and solutions they raise and identifying the need for better evidence to reduce policymaker uncertainty. We offer a new perspective by using policy theory to propose research with greater impact, identifying the need to use persuasion to reduce ambiguity, and to adapt to multi-level policymaking systems.

We identify insights from secondary data, namely systematic reviews, critical analysis and policy theories relevant to evidence-based policymaking. The studies are drawn primarily from countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. We combine empirical and normative elements to identify the ways in which scientists can, do and could influence policy.

We identify two important dilemmas, for scientists and researchers, that arise from our initial advice. First, effective actors combine evidence with manipulative emotional appeals to influence the policy agenda – should scientists do the same, or would the reputational costs outweigh the policy benefits? Second, when adapting to multi-level policymaking, should scientists prioritise ‘evidence-based’ policymaking above other factors? The latter includes governance principles such the ‘co-production’ of policy between local public bodies, interest groups and service users. This process may be based primarily on values and involve actors with no commitment to a hierarchy of evidence.

We conclude that successful engagement in ‘evidence-based policymaking’ requires pragmatism, combining scientific evidence with governance principles, and persuasion to translate complex evidence into simple stories. To maximise the use of scientific evidence in health and public health policy, researchers should recognise the tendency of policymakers to base judgements on their beliefs, and shortcuts based on their emotions and familiarity with information; learn ‘where the action is’, and be prepared to engage in long-term strategies to be able to influence policy; and, in both cases, decide how far you are willing to go to persuade policymakers to act and secure a hierarchy of evidence underpinning policy. These are value-driven and political, not just ‘evidence-based’, choices.

Return on investment of public health interventions: a systematic review

Masters R, et al. J Epidemiol Community Health 2017;0:1–8. doi:10.1136/jech 2016-208141

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ABSTRACT
Background Public sector austerity measures in many
high-income countries mean that public health budgets
are reducing year on year. To help inform the potential
impact of these proposed disinvestments in public
health, we set out to determine the return on investment
(ROI) from a range of existing public health
interventions.
Methods We conducted systematic searches on all
relevant databases (including MEDLINE; EMBASE;
CINAHL; AMED; PubMed, Cochrane and Scopus) to
identify studies that calculated a ROI or cost-benefit ratio
(CBR) for public health interventions in high-income
countries.
Results We identified 2957 titles, and included 52
studies. The median ROI for public health interventions
was 14.3 to 1, and median CBR was 8.3. The median
ROI for all 29 local public health interventions was 4.1
to 1, and median CBR was 10.3. Even larger benefits
were reported in 28 studies analysing nationwide public
health interventions; the median ROI was 27.2, and
median CBR was 17.5.
Conclusions This systematic review suggests that local
and national public health interventions are highly costsaving.
Cuts to public health budgets in high income
countries therefore represent a false economy, and are
likely to generate billions of pounds of additional costs
to health services and the wider economy.