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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A systematic review of barriers to and facilitators of the use of evidence by policymakers

Kathryn Oliver1*, Simon Innvar2, Theo Lorenc3, Jenny Woodman4 and James Thomas5

Author Affiliations

1 School of Social Sciences, University of Manchester, Bridgeford Street, M13 9PL Manchester, UK

2 Faculty of Social Sciences, Oslo University College, P.B. 4, St. Olavs Plass, NO-0130 Oslo, Norway

3 Department of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Public Policy (UCL STEaPP), University College London, 66-72 Gower Street, London WC1E 6EA, UK

4 MRC Centre of Epidemiology for Child Health, Institute of Child Health, London WC1N 1EH, UK

5 University of London, Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL, UK

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BMC Health Services Research 2014, 14:2  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-14-2

Published: 3 January 2014

Abstract

Background

The gap between research and practice or policy is often described as a problem. To identify new barriers of and facilitators to the use of evidence by policymakers, and assess the state of research in this area, we updated a systematic review.

Methods

Systematic review. We searched online databases including Medline, Embase, SocSci Abstracts, CDS, DARE, Psychlit, Cochrane Library, NHSEED, HTA, PAIS, IBSS (Search dates: July 2000 - September 2012). Studies were included if they were primary research or systematic reviews about factors affecting the use of evidence in policy. Studies were coded to extract data on methods, topic, focus, results and population.

Results

145 new studies were identified, of which over half were published after 2010. Thirteen systematic reviews were included. Compared with the original review, a much wider range of policy topics was found. Although still primarily in the health field, studies were also drawn from criminal justice, traffic policy, drug policy, and partnership working. The most frequently reported barriers to evidence uptake were poor access to good quality relevant research, and lack of timely research output. The most frequently reported facilitators were collaboration between researchers and policymakers, and improved relationships and skills. There is an increasing amount of research into new models of knowledge transfer, and evaluations of interventions such as knowledge brokerage.

Conclusions

Timely access to good quality and relevant research evidence, collaborations with policymakers and relationship- and skills-building with policymakers are reported to be the most important factors in influencing the use of evidence. Although investigations into the use of evidence have spread beyond the health field and into more countries, the main barriers and facilitators remained the same as in the earlier review. Few studies provide clear definitions of policy, evidence or policymaker. Nor are empirical data about policy processes or implementation of policy widely available. It is therefore difficult to describe the role of evidence and other factors influencing policy. Future research and policy priorities should aim to illuminate these concepts and processes, target the factors identified in this review, and consider new methods of overcoming the barriers described.