J Epidemiol Community Health 54:461-468 doi:10.1136/jech.54.6.461
  • Theory and methods

How are policy makers using evidence? Models of research utilisation and local NHS policy making

  1. Heather Elliott,
  2. Jennie Popay
  1. National Primary Care Research and Development Centre at Salford, Public Health Research Resource Centre, The University of Salford, Humphrey Booth House, Hulme Place, The Crescent, Salford M5 4 NY
  1. Heather Elliott
  • Accepted 20 October 1999


STUDY OBJECTIVE This paper is based on a qualitative study that aimed to identify factors that facilitate or impede evidence-based policy making at a local level in the UK National Health Service (NHS). It considers how models of research utilisation drawn from the social sciences map onto empirical evidence from this study.

DESIGN A literature review and case studies of social research projects that were initiated by NHS health authority managers or GP fundholders in one region of the NHS. In depth interviews and document analysis were used.

SETTING One NHS region in England.

PARTICIPANTS Policy makers, GPs and researchers working on each of the social research projects selected as case studies.

MAIN RESULTS The direct influence of research evidence on decision making was tempered by factors such as financial constraints, shifting timescales and decision makers' own experiential knowledge. Research was more likely to impact on policy in indirect ways, including shaping policy debate and mediating dialogue between service providers and users.

CONCLUSIONS The study highlights the role of sustained dialogue between researchers and the users of research in improving the utilisation of research-based evidence in the policy process.


  • Funding: the study reported in this paper was funded by the NHS North West R&D Directorate.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.