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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

The use of evidence in public governmental reports on health policy: an analysis of 17 Norwegian official reports (NOU)

Simon Innvær

Author Affiliations

Faculty of Social Sciences, Oslo University College, PO Box 4, St Olavs plass, 0130 Oslo, Norway

BMC Health Services Research 2009, 9:177  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-9-177

Published: 28 September 2009

Abstract

Background

Governments increasingly require policy documents to be evidence-based. This paper analyses the use of scientific evidence in such documents by reviewing reports from government-appointed committees in Norway to assess the committees' handling of questions of effect.

Methods

This study uses the 'Index of Scientific Quality' (ISQ) to analyse all Norwegian official reports (NOUs) that were: (1) published by the Norwegian Ministry of Health and Care Services during 1994-1998 (N = 20); and (2) concerned with questions of effect either because these were included in the mandate or as a result of the committee's interpretation of the mandate. The ISQ is based on scientific criteria common in all research concerning questions of effect. The primary outcome measure is an ISQ score on a five-point scale.

Results

Three reports were excluded because their mandates, or the committees' interpretations of them, did not address questions of effect. For the remaining 17 NOUs in our study, overall ISQ scores were low for systematic literature search and for explicit validation of research. Two reports had an average score of three or higher, while scores for five other reports were not far behind. How committees assessed the relevant factors was often unclear.

Conclusion

The reports' evaluations of health evidence in relation to questions of effect lacked transparency and, overall, showed little use of systematic processes. A systematic, explicit and transparent approach, following the standards laid down in the ISQ, may help generate the evidence-based decision-making that Norway, the UK, the EU and the WHO desire and seek. However, policy-makers may find the ISQ criteria for assessing the scientific quality of a report too narrow to adequately inform policy-making.