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Interpretation and use of evidence in state policymaking: a qualitative analysis



Researchers advocating for evidence-informed policy have attempted to encourage policymakers to develop a greater understanding of research and researchers to develop a better understanding of the policymaking process. Our aim was to apply findings drawn from studies of the policymaking process, specifically the theory of policy windows, to identify strategies used to integrate evidence into policymaking and points in the policymaking process where evidence was more or less relevant.


Our observational study relied on interviews conducted with 24 policymakers from the USA who had been trained to interpret scientific research in multiple iterations of an evidence-based workshop. Participants were asked to describe cases where they had been involved in making health policy and to provide examples in which research was used, either successfully or unsuccessfully. Interviews were transcribed, independently coded by multiple members of the study team and analysed for content using key words, concepts identified by participants and concepts arising from review of the texts.


Our results suggest that policymakers who focused on health issues used multiple strategies to encourage evidence-informed policymaking. The respondents used a strict definition of what constituted evidence, and relied on their experience with research to discourage the use of less rigorous research. Their experience suggested that evidence was less useful in identifying problems, encouraging political action or ensuring feasibility and more useful in developing policy alternatives.


Past research has suggested multiple strategies to increase the use of evidence in policymaking, including the development of rapid-response research and policy-oriented summaries of data. Our findings suggest that these strategies may be most relevant to the policymaking stream, which develops policy alternatives. In addition, we identify several strategies that policymakers and researchers can apply to encourage evidence-informed policymaking.

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