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How to disseminate research evidence

We all know that it is important to use the best available research evidence to make health and social care decisions. However, we are less clear on how research evidence makes its way into practice. In today’s complex health system, the reality is research makes its way into practice through a number of different routes and is shaped by a range of influences and pressures, from economic to personal.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Dissemination Centre was set up in April 2015 to help NHS clinicians, commissioners and patients make evidence-based decisions about which treatments and practices are most effective and provide the best use of resources.

We assess the latest health research from NIHR and other research organisations to identify the most reliable, relevant and significant findings. We then disseminate these findings as actionable, accessible, and trustworthy information.

In just under two years we’ve continually developed our understanding and methods of research evidence dissemination and we wanted to share three insights we learned along the way.

Collaborate

At the Dissemination Centre, all of our work is produced in collaboration with evidence users and researchers. They help us to summarise and interpret the evidence in three types of report:

  • NIHR Signals are weekly summaries of the most recent, relevant and important research. We work with thousands of ‘raters’, health care professionals and patients, to help decide which findings to share.
  • NIHR Highlights are reviews of research in key areas. We ask practitioners, decision-makers and patients to share their views and experience on the research area and use these accounts to accompany the evidence. 
  • Themed Reviews are in-depth reviews across topic areas, looking at current evidence, research in progress and the implications for practice. These are produced in collaboration with a steering group of prominent researchers, clinicians, patient groups and others.

By collaborating with others we ensure the work we produce is accurate, informed and likely to be of use. It also helps us to disseminate the information, as each collaborator has access to a network with which they can share the work they have helped to shape.

We are always looking to collaborate whether it is with charities, academics or clinical commissioning groups. If you are interested in working with us in the future, please take a look at our upcoming work schedule.

Go to your audience

Social media gives anyone the ‘potential’ to reach thousands of people in an instant. But building an audience and developing engaging content that they will read and share… well, that takes time. For now we have decided to focus our efforts on Twitter.

There are already thriving communities of nurses, doctors, commissioners, patients and others on this platform. These people could use the evidence and become advocates – sharing the findings online and in the ‘real world’.  Twitter makes it easy to identify, listen and engage with these potential research champions.

Campaign

You can’t just provide the information; you also need to encourage people to use it. Our audience face countless influences and pressures in their day-to-day lives. As such, the pursuit of evidence-based practice and treatment is not going to be the first thing on their mind.

Inspired by campaigns like #whywedoresearch and #AMillionDecisions, both of which we’ve supported through social media, we’ve started working to establish #KnowYourResearch. We’re hoping that this will be a flag that those who believe in the importance of research evidence in health care can rally behind, and we’ve already seen some success.

Last year we launched online quiz and this year we introduced downloadable postcards - we’ll be developing this campaign further.

There is still a lot to learn

We know people are doing some fantastic work in this area and we’d love to know what has worked for you when disseminating research. Do you have any top tips? And how have you measured your impact?

We still have a lot to learn and we are currently undertaking a number of evaluation projects to help us develop further and faster.