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  • Author or Editor: Sandra Nutley x
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The final chapter reflects on the key issues to emerge from earlier chapters, drawing on the work of the Research Unit for Research Utilisation based at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. It looks at the differences across the countries represented in this book to draw out the ideas, practices and issues which merit wider consideration and what factors make these more or less feasible than in other countries. It then considers which aspects of knowledge mobilisation deserve more attention as they have not been given much coverage and which lines of future research and development emerge from the earlier chapters and wider work on knowledge mobilisation as a field of practice.

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This article considers the rise of the ‘what works’ policy agenda in the probation service. It presents case study data on a decade of change in one probation service area. The findings are that ‘what works’ has produced a change in the knowledge pool upon which professional practice is based. It has also had a significant impact on the social relationships of probation work. Such shifts in professional knowledge and social relationships have shaken pre-existing professional and organisational identities. However, ‘what works’ appears to have shifted rather than eroded professional boundaries, creating new divisions on which the profession might reconstruct itself.

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This article uses findings from an evaluative review of the implementation of the Crime Reduction Programme (CRP) to highlight the key challenges faced when seeking to deliver evidence-based policy programmes. It considers ways of facilitating the translation of research into practical programmes and projects, and the difficulty of designing effective processes for evaluation, learning and change. The overall lesson is the importance of an approach to programme design and implementation that balances the many tensions inherent in evidence-based programmes, including fidelity to the evidence base versus innovation, short-term wins versus long-term learning, and evaluator distance and independence versus a more ‘hands-on’ and active evaluator role.

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In exploring the role of evidence in policy and practice we have drawn attention to the very wide range of types of knowledge that can inform policy makers, practitioners and other stakeholders, while also highlighting the special and sometimes privileged role of research-based evidence. Our argument has been that research-based knowledge only rarely stands alone, and needs to be integrated into wider understandings through being incorporated with other forms and types of knowledge. However, such incorporation of research findings has often been disappointing and, in the face of this, efforts to encourage research use have grown in number and ambition over the two decades since the late 1990s. Many examples are documented throughout the book (particularly in Sections Two and Four). It is to this issue that we turn in this chapter.

Initiatives to increase the uptake of research range from national centres/clearing houses that produce, synthesise and disseminate research evidence to local initiatives that encourage researchers and practitioners to work together in knowledge co-producing partnerships. There has been a partial move away from any ‘one size fits all’ solution to promoting the use of research evidence, perhaps prompted by growing recognition that evidence use is situated, and that efforts to promote research use need to respond to differences in policy and practice contexts. There is also increasing acknowledgement that research use is not a single event but a complex process that unfolds over time and involves many actors. Different approaches to encouraging and enabling research use are likely to be more or less helpful at various points in this process (for example, there may be a need for both national clearing houses and local partnerships).

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This chapter sets out the generic role of evidence as it relates to policy in the UK. It focuses on the policy process and emphasises the many influences that come together to make policy, of which evidence is only one element. The chapter puts forward a range of models of the policy process such as rationality, ‘satisficing’, incrementalism, and mixed scanning. Evidence is likely to play a different role depending on which of these models holds. There may be considerable variations in the type of models that hold sway in different service areas in the UK public sector. The chapter also discusses the various roles that evidence might play in the policy making process, of which informing on ‘what works’ may be only one.

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This chapter suggests that evidence is well to the fore in healthcare, with an emerging consensus as to what constitutes evidence and a willingness to consider evidence as an essential component of decision making. Nonetheless, many obstacles remain in bridging the gap between what is known about effective care and the care that patients actually receive. Many of the larger policy questions – such as the formation of fundholding general practices, and their subsequent abandonment – are not so well supported as the more detailed service issues, such as choice of first-line therapy. The chapter focuses primarily on evidence relating to effectiveness, and is largely confined to exploring how evidence is used in health service delivery.

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Within the criminal justice system, there is renewed interest in the role that evidence can play in shaping crime reduction policies and practices. This chapter charts the shift from the conclusion in the 1970s that ‘nothing works’ to the active search for ‘what works’ in the 1990s. Criminal justice research is characterised by its methodological plurality and, particularly in the UK, a belief in the need for a theory-driven approach to evaluation. One of the issues highlighted by the chapter is the potential danger of adopting tentative research results as firm effective practice principles. An evidence-based approach requires the implementation of current evidence to be carefully balanced and integrated with ongoing evaluations of effectiveness.

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For all the growth in a robust evidence base over recent decades, it has repeatedly been shown that such evidence often fails to have the impact that it might. Studies in healthcare show that it can take more than a decade before research evidence on the effectiveness of interventions passes through the system to become part of established practice. Other parts of the public sector – such as education, social care, and criminal justice services – are only beginning to grapple with what it means to be ‘evidence-based’. This chapter focuses more on service delivery and professional practice. It uses a diverse set of ideas from the social sciences – such as the diffusion of innovations and theories of individual and organisational learning – to explore how evidence might impact on services in a more timely and organised manner.

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Despite a burgeoning literature and the development of new theories about knowledge mobilisation in the past 15 years, findings from this online survey in 2014 of over 100 research agencies (n=106; response rate 57%) show the challenges of making effective use of formal and informal learning. Many agencies rely on traditional knowledge ‘push’ activities; formal use of theoretical models and frameworks is patchy; and knowledge-sharing between agencies and the comprehensive evaluation of knowledge mobilisation programmes are limited. Closer links between research agencies, and between these and knowledge mobilisation researchers, could enhance future knowledge mobilisation practice and theory.

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This article explores the role and use of evidence by actors involved in the policy debate on sex offender community notification in the summer of 2000. It examines what was considered as evidence, how it was used and by which actors. It highlights the wide and fluid nature of evidence and the rapidity with which it can infuse policy debates. Although evidence was used strategically and tactically by most actors, the policy debate was well informed. Overall, the relationship between evidence and policy that emerges is a far cry from the ‘two communities’ view of evidence providers and evidence users.

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