Jenn Thornhill Verma
John N. Lavis
COVID-19 created an unparalleled focus on evidence. In order to apply the lessons learned and tackle the great societal challenges of our time – from educational achievement and health-system performance to the climate emergency – we need better evidence-support systems.
In the last three years, a remarkable demand for evidence to address rapidly evolving decision-making challenges was met with equally striking efforts to meet that demand with the best available evidence. Not all went well, of course, but what’s worked highlights what’s possible.
We convened the Global Commission on Evidence to Address Societal Challenges to support people in this vital work. Released in January 2022, our report, The Evidence Commission report: A wake-up call and path forward for decision-makers, evidence intermediaries, and impact-oriented evidence producers provides recommendations about how we can and must improve the use of evidence, both in routine times and in future global crises. The report also provides the context, concepts and vocabulary that underpin work in this area.
One critically important concept underpinning much of the report is that of the evidence-support system. Grounded in an understanding of a national — or sub-national — context, including time constraints, this is a demand-driven system, focused on contextualizing the evidence for a given decision in an equity-sensitive way. But the Evidence Commission found that while many countries have a research system to generate new knowledge, and an innovation system to generate new practices and processes, most countries lack a formalized evidence-support system that connects best evidence to key decisions, much less with considerations for short timeframes and lesser still for equity considerations.
Evidence intermediaries, those who connect best evidence to those who need it, can leverage existing evidence-support units and processes to help fill this gap (see figure 1). Evidence intermediaries may also:
Together, we can go farther, faster, while focusing our collective efforts on strengthening evidence-support systems. Doing so, will be a step toward breaking down existing silos within and across sectors, countries, and forms of evidence:
The siloing of sectors is what has led us, at the Evidence Commission secretariat, to start conducting rapid jurisdictional assessments in 20 countries that look across the whole of government (both central agencies and line ministries) to identify what's going well in evidence support that needs to be systematized or scaled up and where are the biggest gaps.
The siloing of countries is what has led us, at McMaster Health Forum, and key partners to work with the World Health Organization (WHO) in supporting EVIPNet in 55 countries with a focus on health evidence intermediaries It has led our colleagues to establish the Africa Evidence Network with a focus on African evidence intermediaries.
The siloing of forms of evidence is what has led us, again at the Forum, and key partners to innovate in evidence products that bring together all key forms of evidence in a timely, demand-driven, equity-focused way.
We can also better document and support the adaptation of the lessons learned across sectors and countries/regions to further formalize and strengthen national evidence-support systems.
Between us we have 40 years of working to support evidence use and we feel strongly that the time for this work is now. We’re not alone in that commitment. The Evidence Commission secretariat along with our colleagues who organized Cochrane Convenes in the fall and who led the preparation of the EVIPNet Call for Action collectively agree that future priorities for evidence-intermediary organizations include:
To learn more, and get involved, we encourage you to reach out to us at evidencecommission.org.