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Friday, 15 September 2017 14:33

Making evidence work

by Josee Koch and Vannessa Kruger

Global Evidence Summit, 2017

Day 2 of the Global Evidence Summit 2017 focused on evidence ecosystems, with different sessions exploring the links between actors and strategies for closing the gaps between evidence and improved care.
Various papers were presented showing different evidence ecosystems, but all shared a common set of players: producers, synthesisers, disseminators, implementers and evaluators/improvers. Not only does this ecosystem have to be balanced for evidence to be used effectively, but the ecosystem itself must be able to exist alongside and within other broader societal systems. Simply put, having evidence is one thing, making the evidence work within complex socio-cultural ecosystems is another thing.

Evidence mapping, using innovative digital platforms, can provide different actors in the ecosystem with comprehensive and accessible overviews of a particular body of knowledge. Evidence maps show other users where gaps or contradictory evidence exists. (Not all “evidence” is necessary “good evidence”!) This allows other users to make more informed decisions on, for example, resource allocation for both research and programming/policy. Robust evidence/evidence-gap mapping would be a good starting point for any large grant fund or proposed policy and programming change.

Systematic reviews (as well as continuous updating and reviews of systematic reviews) provide users with critical and methodologically sound assessments of the body of evidence in the public domain. Making the evidence produced by systematic reviews accessible then becomes another vital cog in the functioning of the evidence ecosystem. Systematic reviews are valuable sources of information for all users in the ecosystem, but by their very nature are complex, and translating the evidence is essential. The art and discipline of translating scientific findings into plain language summaries must not be underestimated. Interestingly, one study compared the efficacy of plain language summaries vs infographics in relation to transfer of knowledge. Plain language summaries proved to be the more effective strategy, even as compared to what can be consider “good” infographics.

Knowing what evidence is or isn’t out there, subjecting all the evidence to rigorous assessment and then making this evidence as accessible as possible are all important in ensuring the evidence ecosystem functions. However, irrespective of the quantity and quality of evidence in the public domain, the evidence has to be located within the broader socio-cultural and political ecosystem for real transformation to take place. Without the necessary behavioural change (and drivers to bring this change about), evidence – however robust and accessible – will have little or no efficacy.

It could perhaps be argued the science of producing, synthesising and disseminating evidence is well established. The gap to fill may be related to making sure that evidence is in fact a public good and that social-cultural issues are addressed to allow the effective use of the evidence to bring about the desired change.

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