Barriers to accessing research

Evidence from research studies is certainly available, so why aren’t more decision-makers using it? Participants in the four Evidence To Action Roundtables identified several barriers currently blocking or reducing the movement from evidence to action:

  • It’s not always easy to find relevant research. For research-users, it is often not clear which researcher, or even which research organization, to contact about a particular subject. Potential users want the ability to contact experts to discuss the state of the evidence or the gold standard that should be considered in assessing the suitability of research evidence in decision-making.
  • Enhance the skills needed to understand research. In general, policy-makers and other non-scientists may not have the skills and knowledge required to distinguish high-quality research evidence from findings that are less reliable, or even completely false. This means researchers must provide results in clear, non- technical language and offer context and interpretive guidance.
  • Users want evidence, but they also need advice. Even when the research findings are made available in a format that is easily understandable, users say they aren’t always sure what the findings mean or how best to apply them in the real world. As one participant said, “We are looking for advice, not more research findings.”
  • Information on the costs and benefits of workplace health and safety interventions is needed. For example, Health and Safety associations and employer participants recognized the importance of workplace injury prevention programs based on best evidence. But having information related to costs and returns on investment would help them build a business case for change.
  • Research takes time and policy-makers can’t always wait. When it comes to waiting for new information, policy-makers typically defined short term as “anywhere from three hours to three months.” To the average researcher, short term means around 18 months. This implies that it may not be possible for scientists to undertake new research to inform short-term policy or operational questions. Also, since research agendas are usually planned well in advance, new research questions may not be able to be accommodated immediately. But a surprising fact emerged during the Roundtable discussions: researchers don’t always understand that often what users need to make a certain decision is not new (primary) research, but simply “the research knowledge already in the scientists’ heads.”
  • Decision-makers who have research ideas do not know how to get on the research agenda. Researchers and potential users of evidence are not always on the same page about what needs to be studied. Users say that they are not aware of the process for raising research questions, and they have no idea how and when to get their own interests on the agenda of those who fund and carry out workplace health research.

Source: At Work, Issue 44, Spring 2006: Institute for Work & Health, Toronto