Dr Susan Calnan is a post-doctoral researcher at the School of Public Health, University College Cork. Her research interests include implementation science and knowledge translation. Dr Calnan completed her PhD in 2019, focusing on the evaluation of an alcohol prevention programme. Since then, she has been involved in a number of research projects focusing on the implementation of health services and/or evidence. Prior to this, she worked for 10 years in research publishing for organisations including the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. She also holds a Professional Certificate in Knowledge Translation.
The importance of using robust evidence to inform policy and decision-making in health is widely acknowledged. Nevertheless, the evidence-to-policy and practice gap continues to persist. The aim of this study was to examine senior health service stakeholders’ experiences and perceptions of evidence us; identify barriers to and facilitators of research use; and identify recommendations to support research use among health service stakeholders.
A qualitative study was conducted using semi-structured one-to-one interviews with a sample of senior health service stakeholders in Ireland. Interviews were conducted in late August 2021 to January 2022. Purposive sampling was used, and inclusion criteria were national-level senior management involved in making decisions regarding strategy, planning, development and delivery of health services. Interviews were analysed using thematic analysis.
A total of 17 interviews were conducted, representing a response rate of approximately 38%. Participants reported using a range and mix of evidence types to inform their work and decision-making, and they had a strong appreciation of the importance of research. Barriers, facilitators and recommended supports were further categorised according to individual, organisational, research itself, social, economic and political factors. Key barriers to research use ranged from individual barriers such as lack of time and other stakeholders’ lack of understanding or interest in research to organisational barriers such as access and the culture of research. Key facilitators included social factors such as links with external organisations, particularly universities, and organisational factors such as the internal library service.
The study points to a dynamic evidence use ecosystem among those interviewed. Notwithstanding these positive findings, a range of barriers to research use were identified at multiple levels. The study highlights the need for a more proactive and strategic approach to support evidence use in health service organisations. These should include strategies targeted at tangible elements such as available resources, but also less tangible elements such as the climate or culture of research in the organisation.