What can evidence-use in practice learn from evidence-use in policy?

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    Background: This paper approaches evidence-informed practice from the perspective of evidence-informed policy-making. Using the findings of a recent study of evidence-use by educational policy-makers to raise questions about evidence-use by educational practitioners, it seeks to explore what such a study might tell us about how to understand and improve evidence-use by educational practitioners. Purpose: The paper aims, therefore, to identify potential connections, shared insights and common issues between evidence-use in policy and evidence-use in practice. It does this by focusing on two specific areas: the nature of the evidence (i.e. what evidence is used) and the nature of the use (i.e. how evidence is used). The paper outlines what was found about each of these aspects of evidence-use in policy, and then considers what questions and issues these findings might raise for evidence-use in educational practice. Sample: The empirical study on which this paper is based was an in-depth study of the use of evidence within educational policy development in Australia. It focused on the development of three specific education policies within one Australian state education department and involved interviews with 25 policy-makers who were actively involved in the development of these policies. Design and methods: The policy-based study involved the following data collection processes: (i) in-depth semi-structured interviews with 25 policy-makers who were involved in the development of the selected policies; (ii) documentary analysis of policy documents, background research reports and other relevant papers relating to the selected policies; (iii) unstructured observation (where possible) of meetings and events connected with the development of the selected policies; and (iv) feedback from 40 wider policy staff who took part in a verification workshop to discuss the project’s emerging findings. Findings: Drawing on the findings from the original policy study, two areas of potential connection to evidence-use in practice are explored. First, in relation to ‘varieties of evidence and uses’, the negotiation of diverse evidence types and the potential for using evidence in multiple and varied ways appear to be features of evidence-use that are common to educational policy-makers as well as educational practitioners. Secondly, in relation to ‘narrowness of evidence sources’, there is potential for both policy-makers and practitioners to use a narrow (rather than broad) selection of evidence, due to a tendency to work with certain evidence types as a starting point (e.g. performance data) and a tendency to draw on certain evidence sources more frequently (e.g. well-known, familiar research sources). Conclusions: This paper emphasises: (i) the need for more integrated (or joined-up) understandings of evidence-use across contexts of practice and contexts of policy; (ii) the importance of continued efforts to understand and represent evidence-use more effectively within educational practices; and (iii) the value of paying careful attention to the quality and qualities of evidence-use within and across the different settings of educational practice and policy.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)173-189
    Number of pages17
    JournalEducational Research
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2017


    • Evidence-informed policy
    • Evidence-informed practice
    • Evidence-use
    • Evidence- based practice
    • Evidence- based policy
    • Research use

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