Context: Policymaking is a highly complex process that is often difficult to predict or influence. Most of the scholarship examining the role of research evidence in policymaking has focused narrowly on characteristics of the evidence and the interactions between scientists and government officials. The real-life context in which policymakers are situated and make decisions also is crucial to the development of evidence-informed policy.
Methods: This qualitative study expands on other studies of research utilization at the state level through interviews with twenty-eight state legislators and administrators about their real-life experiences incorporating evidence into policymaking. The interviews were coded inductively into the following categories: (1) the important or controversial issue or problem being addressed, (2) the information that was used, (3) facilitators, and (4) hindrances.
Findings: Hindrances to evidence-informed policymaking included institutional features; characteristics of the evidence supply, such as research quantity, quality, accessibility, and usability; and competing sources of influence, such as interest groups. The policymakers identified a number of facilitators to the use of evidence, including linking research to concrete impacts, costs, and benefits; reframing policy issues to fit the research; training to use evidence-based skills; and developing research venues and collaborative relationships in order to generate relevant evidence.
Conclusions: Certain hindrances to the incorporation of research into policy, like limited budgets, are systemic and not readily altered. However, some of the barriers and facilitators of evidence-informed health policymaking are amenable to change. Policymakers could benefit from evidence-based skills training to help them identify and evaluate high-quality information. Researchers and policymakers thus could collaborate to develop networks for generating and sharing relevant evidence for policy.