If you want to influence health policy, it helps to be abreast of the latest relevant evidence (in all its forms). But this can be difficult to achieve as so much of the evidence never sees the light of day through publication in journals or other public places (hence the Croakey Register of Unreleased Documents – see its cry for help at the bottom of this post).
In this article, New York researchers give plenty of practical tips about how to find health policy evidence on the web, including “strategies and tips to reduce information overload and to access synthesized research for evidence-based health policy”.
The article is aimed at nurses and has a US focus, but will no doubt be of broader interest/use. (Only the abstract is freely available, if you’d like a copy of the full article, please leave your email details at the bottom of the post or email me direct.)
The importance of digging into the grey literature is highlighted in more detail below in the latest update from the Primary Health Care Research and Information Service (PHC RIS).
Uncovering the “grey literature” about health policy
Dr Christina Hagger writes:
The importance of evidence as one imperative in the dynamic process of effective policy making is increasingly acknowledged. There remain, however, some inconsistencies in the assessment of what types of knowledge are contained with that evidence.
Some audiences still tend to restrict their outlook to the ‘facts’ derived from research, yet there is increasing awareness of the additional value to be gained from other types of evidence, such as personal or tacit knowledge, practical wisdom and collective local experience.
A broader knowledge exchange agenda encourages the identification and utilisation of these very different types of evidence. The process values the ability of diverse stakeholders (practitioners, researchers, funders, consumers, policy makers) to create, manage and exchange relevant knowledge to influence the development of effective policy to improve health outcomes.
One key source of knowledge is the grey literature. This literature includes conference abstracts, theses, un-published research studies, reports from non-profit organisations and government as well as real time web updates.
Although the grey literature is essentially outside the reach of commercial channels, it may (though not always!) be just as critically reviewed as commercially published content. As with all evidence, critical appraisal is essential.
Nonetheless this vast and diverse field of literature complements and should be used in addition to published journal articles.
As Olsan and colleagues observe in their paper on searching for health policy information, the most relevant literature to answer complex questions may at times exist primarily within the grey literature. Searching the grey literature also offers the potential to balance any tendencies for publication bias, (ie an increased likelihood of reporting positive or significant results), in the published literature.
However, given its nature, the grey literature tends not to be systematically indexed in electronic databases.
Accordingly, in addition to tips for searching research databases such as PubMed, Cochrane Library and CINAHL, the authors provide hints and guidelines for searching the grey literature. These include key strategies to refine the search process and a selection of more advanced search techniques.
Despite its American focus, this article gives some clear advice on the importance of staying well informed about key policy issues and some guidance on how to effectively navigate both research databases and the grey literature.
• Dr Christina Hagger is Research Fellow, Primary Health Care Research & Information Service (PHC RIS)
Olsan TH, Bianchi C, White P, Glessner T & Mapstone PL, 2011, Finding electronic information of health policy advocacy: a guide to improving search results, Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 23, p. 648-658.
This article, which can be accessed at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22145655, features in the 26 April 2012 edition of PHC RIS eBulletin, available at http://www.phcris.org.au/publications/ebulletin/index.php. The eBulletin is designed to inform readers of recently published articles and reports, news items, media releases, upcoming conferences and courses, research grants, scholarships and fellowships, PHC RIS products and services and relevant websites in the primary health care field. Those interested in receiving the weekly eBulletin are invited to subscribe to the free service at http://www.phcris.org.au/mailinglists/index.php
Previous PHC RIS columns at Croakey
PS from Croakey:
The Croakey Register of Unreleased Documents (CRUD) is in sore need of an update. I would love to hear from any suitably qualified and motivated people who might be willing to help with this….