Definition: Making evidence work in your own setting

Having located reliable evidence, you need to make it work in your particular setting. This means deciding whether it is applicable to your own service and how it can best be presented to those who will be making decisions.

Key Points

  • To allow you to be confident in using specific evidence as a basis for decisions, you must be sure that it can be related to your own setting or service.
  • Your own knowledge and experience is crucial for putting research evidence into context.
  • Evidence is not always clear-cut and can sometimes point to more than one conclusion.
  • Summarising the research evidence you have gathered can help you to better understand it.
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1. Is the evidence relevant to your practice?

Once you’ve appraised the evidence you’ve found, you need to determine how relevant and applicable the findings are in terms of your own service setting. This process requires that a number of questions be considered in relation to the evidence you have found and to your own knowledge and practice experience.

Questions that you will want to consider include:

  1. Does the group that the evidence comes from differ from your service users in ways that might give different results?
  2. Does your local setting differ from the setting in the evidence?
  3. Could you provide the same service or intervention in your setting?

Answering these questions relies on the expertise and practice knowledge built up through experience in the field. It is important to remember that the use of formal research in decision-making is only one type of evidence. It is not intended to replace ‘practice wisdom’, but rather to complement it and build on it. Your professional expertise is crucial in putting the evidence into context. Additionally, it is worth giving some thought to how your own ‘practice wisdom’ can be explicitly articulated so that others can learn from it.

Links (online resources):

  • Beyond anecdote: the quest to codify practice wisdom
    This is one of the podcasts in the Iriss Learning Exchange podcast collection. In this podcast, Mark Doel analyses the barriers to integrating learning and practice, and presents a practical, tested model to help practitioners to sample their practice in a systematic fashion and to share it with others.
  • Is the evidence relevant?
    This resource provides a checklist of points you should consider when deciding if the evidence is relevant to your situation.

2. Is there evidence supportive of more than one conclusion?

In an ideal scenario, you will have a number of good quality sources of evidence that point to a single conclusion. Of course, in the real world, this is often not the case. Sometimes you will find, particularly in an area where little structured study has been undertaken, that the evidence can point to more than one conclusion or that sources of evidence point to conflicting conclusions. It is important to consider what you would do in this situation.

When you have conflicting evidence, it is useful to consider these questions:

  • Are the sources reliable? (See the Assess step)
  • Are the sources equally trustworthy?
  • Are the methods used in the sources equally robust?
  • Can the conflict be accounted for by differences in: population studied (e.g size, characteristics, location) or methods used (e.g case study, survey, interview)?
  • Is the conflict 'real' or due to interpretation or presentations of the results?
  • Are the results truely in conflict or can the conclusions of the evidence co-exist?
  • Is there more evidence for one conclusion than another?
  • Is further evidence available that you have not already looked at that might lend weight to one conclusion or another?
  • If it’s a new area of study, do you believe there is enough evidence overall for any conclusion?

3. Can evidence be summarised in a way that makes it useful and easy to understand?

In order for evidence to be useful in decision-making, it must be summarised so that the main points are easy to consider. A key step in this process is to organise the information into a logical format and to paraphrase what you have found into your own words. It is important to keep your audience in mind when doing this, as different audiences will want to see information presented in different ways. For example, they will have differing levels of understanding of technical terms and will want to see different levels of detail.

Make sure:

  • You are clear about the overall message that is being conveyed
  • You have identified your key points and organised them in a logical way
  • You restate the original reason behind searching for the evidence and the background to it
  • You make relevant links between the evidence you have uncovered and the given context

You may find it useful to provide brief summaries of the evidence you have uncovered. This will give readers a structured overview of the evidence and allow them to see for themselves what you have based your conclusions on. When summarising evidence:

  • State the issue addressed by the evidence and why it is relevant to your own setting
  • Briefly describe how the evidence was gathered, for instance, what methods were used, the characteristics of the person or group to whom the evidence refers, what was actually done, what was measured, and how the data was analysed
  • Critically appraise the methods if appropriate
  • Briefly describe the results and their importance
  • Explain the implications of the results for your own service setting

If you are describing a number of studies, it may be useful to present the summaries in a tabular format, so that people can easily compare the studies, and you can also highlight any conflicting evidence.

Tip: Try to put aside some time to discuss your evidence with your colleagues. Consider together what you have found and how it can be taken forward. Think about how your own knowledge and experience relates to the research evidence.

Links (online resources):

  • Information Literacy Pack Unit 6: Share
    This is Unit 6 of a downloadable guidance and learning pack focussing on information literacy skills. This unit looks at the sixth or 'Share' stage of the information literacy cycle and includes examples and activities to help you effectively share and communicate information. It includes guidance on considering your audience, ensuring that you communicate your message in the way that will be most influential and communicating in plain English, whether you are presenting your findings in a written or verbal format.
  • Paraphrase: Write it in Your Own Words
    This resource provides valuable advice and examples on how to paraphrase appropriately sources of research, including guidance on when direct quotes should be used.
  • Synthesis of Information
    This site provides some strategies for bringing together and summarising the information you have found, based on different ways to sort and organise it.

Further Reading (offline resources):

  • Adapting and Applying Evidence
    Module four of The Evidence Guide: Using Research and Evaluation in Social Care and Allied Professions (2006) contains detailed information about the SCAM model, writing summaries of evidence and ways to ensure your writing is clear and easy to understand. The Evidence Guide is produced by Barnardo's, What Works for Children? and the Centre for Evidence-Based Social Services. It is available for purchase from Barnardo's