How can evidence best inform policy?

Evidence synthesis supports well founded policymaking and public debate, but what defines good evidence synthesis, and how can it be better used? The Academy of Medical Sciences and the Royal Society have today released a joint report exploring good quality production and use of evidence synthesis for effective policymaking.

Evidence synthesis is the process of bringing together information and knowledge from a range of sources and disciplines to inform debates and decisions on specific issues. This broad definition encompasses a spectrum of techniques that range from a full systematic review to the rapid drawing together of evidence to inform an emergency situation. Together, synthesis techniques can support evidence-based policy development across disciplines and sectors.

The joint report, ‘Evidence synthesis for policy: a statement of principles’, identifies a set of principles that aim to define the fundamental features of good synthesis and guide the production of future synthesis. These principles are:
  • Inclusivity: Inclusive syntheses involve policymakers, consider a wide range of evidence sources and use a wide range of skills and people.
  • Rigour: Rigorous syntheses consider comprehensive feasible bodies of evidence, minimise bias and employ quality assurance processes in the form of independent reviews.
  • Accessibility: Accessible syntheses are written in plain language and are available online within a suitable timeframe.
  • Transparency: Transparent syntheses are transparent about the methodologies, limitations, sources of evidence, and quality assurance processed used.
To encourage the wider production of good evidence synthesis, the report also presents three proposals to researchers, policymakers, funders, publishers and others:
  1. Create the incentives, rewards and research culture that support evidence synthesis in academia and beyond;
  2. Make evidence and synthesised evidence more widely available; and 
  3. Build a culture of co-producing and using synthesised evidence among researchers, policymakers and government departments.
The report’s principles and proposals for use of evidence in practice emerged from discussions between senior leaders of research and policymaking from across sectors including Government, academia and charity. These discussions were convened at two workshops held by the Academy and the Royal Society. These workshops, on ‘Supply and demand of evidence synthesis’ and ‘Ensuring synthesised evidence is available for policymaking’, were held in July and October 2017 respectively.

The workshops and report build on recommendations in the Academy’s major policy projects: ‘Enhancing the use of scientific evidence to judge the potential benefits and harms of medicines’ and ‘Improving the health of the public by 2040’.

The full report is available for download on the right hand side of this page, and its release is accompanied by a Nature Comment article and a blog from the Chair of the evidence synthesis programme, Professor Christl Donnelly FRS FMedSci.

For more information about the report, please contact katharine.fox@acmedsci.ac.uk.

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