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Introduction to...

Evidence-informed health policy

Evidence-informed health policy is part of a general trend towards incorporating research evidence in policy decision-making. As with evidence-based medicine, the aim is to improve outcomes and cost-effectiveness by implementing practices that are supported by the best available evidence.

The Canadian based National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools (NCCMT) has defined a useful framework to describe the processes involved in evidence informed public health practice and policy. Beginning with a clearly defined question, evidence is identified, appraised and synthesised into a form that is relevant to the policy or practice environment, and where appropriate, recommendations can be adapted for implementation in a specific context or environment. Evaluation of implemented practice or policy leads us to re-enter the cycle to define new questions or needs; a flexible process of refinement and response to changing needs and new evidence.

However, research evidence is only one of many considerations when making policy. The policy triangle proposed by Walt and Gibson (1994 in Buse et al, 2005) represents one way to view the many influences that form policy (see

Context (systematic factors e.g. political, economic, social or cultural, both national and international) and Content (subjects and topics covered) together with Actors (special interest groups) influence the policy Process (way in which policy is initiated, developed, negotiated, communicated, implemented and evaluated). Strong research evidence can influence, though not define the Process stage.

Locating relevant and reliable evidence in a rapidly expanding array of information is both time and resource-intensive for researchers and policymakers alike. The following guide introduces a comprehensive series of articles on finding and using research evidence to inform health policy. Developed by the SUPporting POlicy relevant Reviews and Trials (SUPPORT) project, an international collaboration funded by the European Commission 6th Framework INCO programme, the SUPPORT tools have wide applicability in a number of settings. For an overview of the policy cycle (Process) interested Readers are encouraged to read Understanding the policy cycle and knowledge translation for researchers (A researcher’s guide).

Support tools

The 18 SUPPORT Tools provide advice and step-by-step practical instruction on finding and using research evidence at each stage of a policy cycle: 18 individual articles cover a range of topics that broadly fit into the framework shown below.

The emphasis is on “supporting the use of research evidence in health policymaking”. An overview of content in the SUPPORT articles is provided in this Guide, but it is highly recommended that those with an interest in evidence-based health policy refer to this series of freely available practical articles and/or refer to the National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools (NCCMT) for practical summaries of the tools.

Supporting evidence informed policymaking (articles 1-3)

What is evidence-informed policymaking and how to set priorities and improve the way that it is used in your organisation.

Identifying needs for research evidence (articles 4-6)

  • Clarifying a problem

What is the extent of the problem?

What indicators can be used to establish the magnitude of the problem and to measure progress in addressing it?

What comparisons can be made between sub groups in the Australian population?

  • Framing options

What options are there to address the problem?

What benefits and harms are associated with each option?

Is there information about costs and cost effectiveness of each option?

  • Implementation

What are the potential barriers to successful implementation of a policy?

Which stakeholder views and experiences might influence the acceptability of an option?

What strategies should be considered to facilitate behaviour change in a target group and/or organisational and system changes?

How can a problem be framed or described in a way that will motivate different groups?

Finding and Assessing evidence (articles 7-12)

Finding and appraising systematic reviews

Is the evidence applicable to Australia and the setting of interest?

Are there any equity questions or cost implications?

Going from research evidence to decisions (articles 13-18)

How to package and communicate research for policymakers and consumers – policy briefs and policy dialogues

What if there isn’t enough evidence?

Key opinion leaders

 Ian Graham

Senior Scientist, Clinical Epidemiology Program of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Professor, Epidemiology & Community Medicine, University of Ottawa
Adjunct Associate Professor School of Nursing at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario

 John Lavis

Professor, Department of Clinical Epidemiology & Biostatistics, McMaster University

Research evidence sources


ACCESSSS is maintained by the McMaster Health Forum in Canada. It is a repository of current best available evidence to support clinical decisions. Includes an indicator measure of relevance to practice, and comments from clinical raters on the article.

The Campbell Collaboration

The Campbell Collaboration
Inspired by the Cochrane Collaboration, the Campbell Collaboration seeks to help policymakers, practitioners, and the public make informed decisions about policy interventions by preparing, maintaining, and disseminating systematic reviews of the effectiveness of social and behavioural interventions in education, crime and justice, and social welfare.

Cochrane Library

Cochrane Library
Members of the Cochrane Collaboration conduct systematic reviews of health care interventions that are published online in the Cochrane Library and updated periodically. The Cochrane Library includes 92 systematic reviews on effective practice and the organisation of health care.

Cochrane Library Economic Evaluation Database

Cochrane Library Economic Evaluation Database
The Cochrane Library Economic Evaluation Database provides a list of reviews that have had, or are undergoing, an economic evaluation.


PHCRIS Policy Issue Review
Topical Australian health policy issues synthesised with the latest primary health care research.

PubMed Clinical Queries

PubMed Clinical Queries
This Pub Med filter specifically locates systematic reviews.

PubMed Health Services Research Queries

PubMed Health Services Research Queries
This filter restricts PubMed searches to health services research.

Health Evidence
A Canadian website that supports evidence-informed decision making in public health by providing a searchable registry of systematic and narrative reviews.

Health Systems Evidence

Health Systems Evidence
Health Systems Evidence is maintained by the McMaster Health Forum in Canada. It is a repository of systematic reviews on aspects of governance, financial and delivery arrangements within health systems, and about implementation strategies that can support change in health systems. Each review has an AMSTAR rating for quality.

Joanna Briggs Institute

Joanna Briggs Institute
The Institute, located in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Adelaide, promotes and supports evidence-based health care by providing access to resources for professionals in nursing, midwifery, medicine, and allied health.

Rx for Change

Rx for Change
Operated by the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technology in Health, the Rx for Change database summarises current research evidence about the effects of strategies to improve drug prescribing practice and drug use.


Buse K, Mays N, Walt G. (2005).  Making health policy. Understanding public health. Berkshire: Open University Press.

Lavis J, Oxman A, Lewin S, Fretheim A. (2009). SUPPORT Tools for evidence-informed health Policymaking (STP)Health Research Policy and Systems, 7(Suppl 1)

Steinbach R. (2009). Principal approaches to policy formation. [online] Available at:, Accessed October 2017

Walt G, Gilson L. (1994). Reforming the health sector in developing countries: the central role of policy analysis. Health Policy Plan. 9(4),  353–370

PHCRIS Resources

 Introduction to Research impact on policy

 Understanding the policy cycle and knowledge translation for researchers (A researcher’s guide) RESEARCH ROUNDup Issue 45. Brown L, Hagger C, Bywood P. (2015).

 Policy making in the Commonwealth public service and the importance of knowledge exchange

Other useful resources

 Glossary of terms related to Health Evidence, McMaster University

 Australian Policy Online — find the latest policy research and publications online.

 The Commonwealth Fund
The Commonwealth Fund is a private foundation that aims to promote a high performing health care system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency, particularly for society's most vulnerable, including low-income people, the uninsured, minority Americans, young children, and elderly adults. An international program in health policy is designed to stimulate innovative policies and practices in the United States and other industrialised countries.

 European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies
The Observatory is a partnership between the WHO regional office for Europe and various European countries and organisations. The Observatory supports and promotes evidence-based health policymaking through comprehensive and rigorous analysis of the dynamics of health care systems in Europe.

 Health Policy Monitor
A 20-country project, initiated 2002, associated with the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies.

 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
OECD provides a setting where governments of countries committed to democracy and the market economy compare policy experiences, seek answers to common problems, identify good practice and coordinate domestic and international policies. Visit ‘statistics portal’ to find links to dynamic maps, charts and assorted factbooks.

 World Health Organization (WHO)

A publicly available, searchable database of health and medical literature.


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Parts of this Guide have been adapted, with permission, from a guide produced for the McMaster Health Forum in Canada.

Compiled by PHCRIS
Last updated Thu 31 Mar 2016
Suggested citation
Primary Health Care Research & Information Service (2017). Getting Started Guide: Evidence-informed Health Policy. From (Accessed 13 Dec 2017)