Aim. This paper reports a study identifying the criteria chosen by nurses to evaluate whether to use research in practice. This work is part of a larger project on the process of research use by nurses.
Background. Prescriptive models of research utilization direct practitioners to evaluate a range of criteria to assess the fit of the research to current practice. Criteria relating to the research, task and nursing context are specified, but it is not known whether nurses use these criteria in practice.
Method. Three different groups of nurse specialists from a number of health care providers in the North West of England were studied. The specialists were involved in a series of meetings at a local university to construct evidence-based policy recommendations for practice. The discussion was analysed to identify the evaluation criteria they used to assess what should be done in the practical setting.
Findings. Three sets of evaluative criteria were identified relating to the research, the task and the fit of the task with the nursing context, and included relevance and quality of the research, effectiveness, practicality, effort and the impact of the task on client and staff, feasibility and fit with the status quo, and the availability of nursing control and feedback from practice. Criteria were domain-, task- and context-specific.
Conclusions. Three frames of reference for decisions relating to the use of research are identified: the debate between efficiency and effectiveness in health care, the difficulties of risk management and the responsibility for risk, and research use as a strategy for control in contested arenas. These frames of reference reflect how nurses are judged in a political and organizational context. Attempts to influence research uptake need to take into account how research is perceived and evaluated by practitioners and how it serves their purposes.