Evidence informed practice

Evidence informed practice is used to design health promoting programs and activities using information about what works.Working i It means using evidence to identify the potential benefits, harms and costs of any intervention and also acknowledging that what works in one context may not be appropriate or feasible in another. Evidence informed practice brings together local experience and expertise with the best available evidence from research.

There are two ways evidence-informed practice should influence our work when it is done in health promoting ways. First, we should consider evidence when we are in the planning stages of an intervention or program. Second, the program should be evaluated and the findings disseminated, helping build the evidence base.The evidence we use could be about the links between a new program and respected theory. It could be about components of the program or an approach we are taking, or it could be about the overall effectiveness of the program. Evidence can be numerical information analysed statistically (quantitative data) or can be descriptive information gathered from interviews or open-ended questions (qualitative data). For it to be evidence, it needs to be collected in a systematic manner and it needs to be informed by research and/or evaluation.

Evidence used in the health promotion context can come from a range of sources. For example, we could use evidence from our own services if we have run the program before and collected evidence to show it works; evidence could come from the evaluation of a program run by a similar organisation; or it could come from the broad research base.

In the health promotion context, this broad research evidence can be found in population health statistics, scientific journals and other publications and systematic reviews of evidence. For example, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, local government reports or national policies or discussion papers may have the evidence needed to support your activity.

If there is a gap in the evidence base we can innovate and develop an approach based on available evidence. We can develop a pilot, collect evidence and evaluate it – we just need to demonstrate there is a gap in the evidence and that the pilot is building the basis for further research.Little girl picking apples

To practice in an evidence informed way requires us to know about:

  • the health issue being addressed
  • what the evidence tells us works to bring about desired outcomes
  • how to put what works into practice effectively
  • who to involve and how to involve them, including partners, communities and key stakeholders
  • why action is needed
  • the size, duration and sophistication of the intervention.

When using evidence in health promotion practice, it should:

  • be used to plan and implement actions that will result in effective outcomes, both short-term and long-term
  • take into account the capacity of the individual, organisation or community
  • be sensitive to the specific context in which the health issue occurs (that is, setting, culture, history and available resources)
  • recognise that moral, ethical, cultural and spiritual values affect what we are prepared to do and not do to improve health, as a client or a practitioner
  • be the best data available from reliable and high quality sources
  • be applied in a systematic way to enable appropriate evaluation methods.

Evidence informed practice still allows us to be creative and innovative in health promotion. It is possible to underpin health promotion practice with sound theory and methodology and at the same time be flexible and responsive to different individuals, groups and/or communities.

Competing resources and priorities have increased the need to demonstrate the outcomes interventions have achieved. It is important we plan evaluation carefully before programs begin so we incorporate information from the outset; evaluating at all stages helps to build the evidence base.

For further information and to apply these principles in your work, view this checklist