Defining 'evidence' in public health: a survey of policymakers' uses and preferences

Kathryn A Oliver, Frank de Vocht

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Public health (PH) policymakers are encouraged to use evidence in the decision-making process. However, little is known about what types of evidence policymakers working in local settings prefer to use. This study aims to evaluate policymakers' needs and sources of information, at regional and local levels.

METHODS: An electronic survey with telephone follow-up was carried out among PH policymakers and evidence producers (n = 152) working in a large UK city. Respondents were asked which types of evidence they used regularly, found most useful and what were their main sources of information. Semi-structured interviews (n = 23) added were analysed quantitatively in addition to the categorical data generated by the survey.

RESULTS: Policymakers use a much greater range of evidence and information than is often indicated in the literature on evidence-based policy. Local data were by far the most used (n = 95%) and most valued (n = 85%) type of information, followed by practice guidelines. The main sources of information were Government websites (84%), followed by information obtained through personal contacts (71%), including PH professionals, council officers and politicians. Academics were rarely consulted and research evidence was rarely seen as directly relevant.

CONCLUSIONS: Policymakers use a wider range of evidence types than previously discussed in the literature. Although local data were most valued by policymakers, results suggest that these were accessed through personal contacts, rather than specialized organizations. Systems to provide local high-quality evidence for PH policy should be supported.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jul 2015

Bibliographical note

© The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the European Public Health Association. All rights reserved.


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