A systematic review of barriers to and facilitators of the use of evidence by policymakers

Background: The gap between research and practice or policy is often described as a problem. To identify new
barriers of and facilitators to the use of evidence by policymakers, and assess the state of research in this area, we
updated a systematic review.
Methods: Systematic review. We searched online databases including Medline, Embase, SocSci Abstracts, CDS,
DARE, Psychlit, Cochrane Library, NHSEED, HTA, PAIS, IBSS (Search dates: July 2000 – September 2012). Studies were
included if they were primary research or systematic reviews about factors affecting the use of evidence in policy.
Studies were coded to extract data on methods, topic, focus, results and population.
Results: 145 new studies were identified, of which over half were published after 2010. Thirteen systematic reviews
were included. Compared with the original review, a much wider range of policy topics was found. Although still
primarily in the health field, studies were also drawn from criminal justice, traffic policy, drug policy, and partnership
working. The most frequently reported barriers to evidence uptake were poor access to good quality relevant
research, and lack of timely research output. The most frequently reported facilitators were collaboration between
researchers and policymakers, and improved relationships and skills. There is an increasing amount of research into
new models of knowledge transfer, and evaluations of interventions such as knowledge brokerage.
Conclusions: Timely access to good quality and relevant research evidence, collaborations with policymakers and
relationship- and skills-building with policymakers are reported to be the most important factors in influencing the
use of evidence. Although investigations into the use of evidence have spread beyond the health field and into more
countries, the main barriers and facilitators remained the same as in the earlier review. Few studies provide clear
definitions of policy, evidence or policymaker. Nor are empirical data about policy processes or implementation of policy
widely available. It is therefore difficult to describe the role of evidence and other factors influencing policy. Future
research and policy priorities should aim to illuminate these concepts and processes, target the factors identified in this
review, and consider new methods of overcoming the barriers described.