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      What can we learn from interventions that aim to increase policy-makers’ capacity to use research? A realist scoping review

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          Health policy-making can benefit from more effective use of research. In many policy settings there is scope to increase capacity for using research individually and organisationally, but little is known about what strategies work best in which circumstances. This review addresses the question: What causal mechanisms can best explain the observed outcomes of interventions that aim to increase policy-makers’ capacity to use research in their work?


          Articles were identified from three available reviews and two databases (PAIS and WoS; 1999–2016). Using a realist approach, articles were reviewed for information about contexts, outcomes (including process effects) and possible causal mechanisms. Strategy + Context + Mechanism = Outcomes (SCMO) configurations were developed, drawing on theory and findings from other studies to develop tentative hypotheses that might be applicable across a range of intervention sites.


          We found 22 studies that spanned 18 countries. There were two dominant design strategies (needs-based tailoring and multi-component design) and 18 intervention strategies targeting four domains of capacity, namely access to research, skills improvement, systems improvement and interaction. Many potential mechanisms were identified as well as some enduring contextual characteristics that all interventions should consider. The evidence was variable, but the SCMO analysis suggested that tailored interactive workshops supported by goal-focused mentoring, and genuine collaboration, seem particularly promising. Systems supports and platforms for cross-sector collaboration are likely to play crucial roles. Gaps in the literature are discussed.


          This exploratory review tentatively posits causal mechanisms that might explain how intervention strategies work in different contexts to build capacity for using research in policy-making.

          Electronic supplementary material

          The online version of this article (10.1186/s12961-018-0277-1) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.

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          Most cited references 112

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          The Many Meanings of Research Utilization

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            Evaluating the successful implementation of evidence into practice using the PARiHS framework: theoretical and practical challenges

            Background The PARiHS framework (Promoting Action on Research Implementation in Health Services) has proved to be a useful practical and conceptual heuristic for many researchers and practitioners in framing their research or knowledge translation endeavours. However, as a conceptual framework it still remains untested and therefore its contribution to the overall development and testing of theory in the field of implementation science is largely unquantified. Discussion This being the case, the paper provides an integrated summary of our conceptual and theoretical thinking so far and introduces a typology (derived from social policy analysis) used to distinguish between the terms conceptual framework, theory and model – important definitional and conceptual issues in trying to refine theoretical and methodological approaches to knowledge translation. Secondly, the paper describes the next phase of our work, in particular concentrating on the conceptual thinking and mapping that has led to the generation of the hypothesis that the PARiHS framework is best utilised as a two-stage process: as a preliminary (diagnostic and evaluative) measure of the elements and sub-elements of evidence (E) and context (C), and then using the aggregated data from these measures to determine the most appropriate facilitation method. The exact nature of the intervention is thus determined by the specific actors in the specific context at a specific time and place. In the process of refining this next phase of our work, we have had to consider the wider issues around the use of theories to inform and shape our research activity; the ongoing challenges of developing robust and sensitive measures; facilitation as an intervention for getting research into practice; and finally to note how the current debates around evidence into practice are adopting wider notions that fit innovations more generally. Summary The paper concludes by suggesting that the future direction of the work on the PARiHS framework is to develop a two-stage diagnostic and evaluative approach, where the intervention is shaped and moulded by the information gathered about the specific situation and from participating stakeholders. In order to expedite the generation of new evidence and testing of emerging theories, we suggest the formation of an international research implementation science collaborative that can systematically collect and analyse experiences of using and testing the PARiHS framework and similar conceptual and theoretical approaches. We also recommend further refinement of the definitions around conceptual framework, theory, and model, suggesting a wider discussion that embraces multiple epistemological and ontological perspectives.
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              Getting evidence into practice: the role and function of facilitation.

              This paper presents the findings of a concept analysis of facilitation in relation to successful implementation of evidence into practice. In 1998, we presented a conceptual framework that represented the interplay and interdependence of the many factors influencing the uptake of evidence into practice. One of the three elements of the framework was facilitation, alongside the nature of evidence and context. It was proposed that facilitators had a key role in helping individuals and teams understand what they needed to change and how they needed to change it. As part of the on-going development and refinement of the framework, the elements within it have undergone a concept analysis in order to provide theoretical and conceptual clarity. The concept analysis approach was used as a framework to review critically the research literature and seminal texts in order to establish the conceptual clarity and maturity of facilitation in relation to its role in the implementation of evidence-based practice. The concept of facilitation is partially developed and in need of delineation and comparison. Here, the purpose, role and skills and attributes of facilitators are explored in order to try and make distinctions between this role and other change agent roles such as educational outreach workers, academic detailers and opinion leaders. We propose that facilitation can be represented as a set of continua, with the purpose of facilitation ranging from a discrete task-focused activity to a more holistic process of enabling individuals, teams and organizations to change. A number of defining characteristics of facilitation are proposed. However, further research to clarify and evaluate different models of facilitation is required.

                Author and article information

                Health Res Policy Syst
                Health Res Policy Syst
                Health Research Policy and Systems
                BioMed Central (London )
                10 April 2018
                10 April 2018
                : 16
                [1 ]ISNI 0000 0004 0601 4585, GRID grid.474225.2, Sax Institute, ; 235 Jones Street, Ultimo, NSW 2007 Australia
                [2 ]ISNI 0000 0004 1936 834X, GRID grid.1013.3, Sydney School of Public Health, Edward Ford Building (A27), , University of Sydney, ; Camperdown, NSW 2006 Australia
                [3 ]ISNI 0000 0004 1936 834X, GRID grid.1013.3, Menzies Centre for Health Policy, , University of Sydney, ; Sydney, Australia
                [4 ]The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, Ultimo, NSW 2007 Australia
                [5 ]ISNI 0000 0004 1936 7857, GRID grid.1002.3, Australasian Cochrane Centre, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, , Monash University, ; Clayton, VIC 3800 Australia
                © The Author(s). 2018

                Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

                Funded by: FundRef, National Health and Medical Research Council;
                Award ID: 1001436
                Award ID: 1093096
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                © The Author(s) 2018


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