The Milbank Quarterly

Cover image for Vol. 95 Issue 3

Edited By: Howard Markel

Impact Factor: 2.809

ISI Journal Citation Reports © Ranking: 2016: 9/77 (Health Policy & Services); 23/90 (Health Care Sciences & Services)

Online ISSN: 1468-0009

Virtual Issue: Introduction


In This Issue

The Milbank Quarterly always begins with an overview by the editor, and so it will be with this, our first virtual issue.  Like our special issue on obesity policy in March 2009, this one is thematic.  All of the articles in this issue pertain to facilitating the use of research evidence.  All were published in the Quarterly over the past decade.  We have once before re-published articles.  The December 2005 issue, which commemorated the centennial of the Milbank Memorial Fund, was devoted to notable articles that had appeared in our pages since 1923 when the journal began publication.  Unlike that issue, however, this one appears only in electronic form and is intended to make a notable group of articles more conveniently available to readers. Our regular issues will continue to be published in both print and electronic forms.

Facilitating the use of research evidence is a fitting topic for a virtual issue of the Quarterly.  It has been the single most dominant theme in the Quarterly in the decade I’ve been the editor.  But, in addition, the electronic format symbolizes how research and publishing have been transformed by changes in information technology, changes that may also be the most important factor in facilitating efforts to get research results incorporated into policy and practice.   

This virtual issue includes, in chronological order, twenty-two articles and two commentaries that have been published in the Quarterly between 2001 and 2011.This is the equivalent of an entire volume.  Our emphasis on the topic was not the result of an editorial plan.  It does, however, reflect the fact that the Quarterly (“A Journal of Population Health and Health Policy”) has long been a scholarly journal that seeks to “shed fresh light on important public policy issues in health care,” as I wrote in my first “In This Issue” in 2000.  Researchers became interested in whether and how research-based evidence is used, and many of them chose to send their papers to us for our consideration. The Quarterly came to be known as a journal that took the topic seriously, like its parent organization, the Milbank Memorial Fund. 

Several of the articles included in this virtual issue are, to borrow a term from epidemiology, of a point-source origin—the source being the “knowledge-translation” program of the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation under the leadership of Jonathan Lomas.  But the topic of knowledge translation has clearly been of much broader interest than that.  Canadians have written a good share of the articles that we have published on the theme, but authors have also come from Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom as well as the United States.

Though they share this theme, the articles themselves are diverse.  Some are about specific approaches to programs for facilitating the use of research evidence.  Others focus on what we know about how research evidence comes to be used.  Some have a historical focus. Many are written from the researcher’s point of view, but some come at the topic from the perspective of users, who use this research for a variety of purposes, including clinical practice, management, and policymaking.  An interesting twist, published in the December 2011 issue (forthcoming as I write this and thus not included here), is a paper about the ways in which policymakers use researchers.

The overall theme in our articles on this topic is that the practical use of health services research (broadly defined) is something that can be facilitated.  Facilitation takes many forms and occurs in numerous ways, ranging from the creation of institutional structures to “translate” research into terms that are policy-relevant to the establishment of trusted personal relationships between researchers and policymakers.  The term evidence-based is now used in many different fields and contexts, and we certainly know much more than we did a decade or two ago about facilitating the use of research.  But before we go too far in congratulating ourselves, imagine what would happen if we were to signal interest in publishing articles about policymaking that flies in the face of evidence.  We would, I fear, be inundated with submissions. 

Bradford H. Gray

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