Evidence-based practice is an approach to making decisions. It relies on using the best available information about what is happening in a community, program or service to enable insight into solving issues.
Evidence is simply information that supports a claim. However, research evidence is different from general evidence, in that the information is systematically collected through the use of established research methods.
An evidence-based program is one that generates and uses research evidence to ensure the program can adapt to changes in community needs, the environment and context. In practice, this can mean using research methods and analytical tools to combine and draw meaning from data that is collected from a range of sources, such as:
» academic literature and research
» clients and community members
» the broader context and environment
All these forms of evidence can be used to develop a program or service, understand how an existing program is working and adapt programs and services to work better. Using evidence in this way helps to ensure better outcomes for our communities, families and children in Australia.
You can see some examples of evidence-based programs listed with the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS).
The challenge of evidence-based practice
There are lots of good sources of evidence and research to support families and communities to be healthy and function well. However, research has not been conducted on every issue and with every community, and does not always lead to a simple solution to the complexities inherent in service delivery. Therefore, conducting evaluation of services delivered in a particular community setting, or with a particular group of individuals, is critical for testing the evidence that already exists, as well as contributing to the evidence-base. Evaluation is a useful tool for building the evidence-base for understanding the impact services are making, as well as enabling communities to be involved in shaping the services that are delivered to them.
This is not to say that adopting evidence informed programs and practices is easy. It can be difficult to access the latest research and information and build the organisational capacity to collect, interpret and use the evidence. Whilst the expertise of consultants from the evaluation sector have a lot to contribute, agencies may be able to develop and use internal resources and staff capacity, in order to innovate program design and planning in line with evidence. By developing an agency’s capacity to use evidence in their decision making, agencies are powerfully positioned to contribute to the growing wealth of practice-based evidence in the sector.
One of the choices available in the family service sector is to either select a program that has been determined as evidence-based, adapt an existing evidence-program, or establish a new evidence-based program. For each approach, it is important to cover the steps in program design and planning, as well as evaluation planning. This is true even when the program is an existing evidence-based program, as it is important that the program matches a needs, is relevant for the community and is monitored to ensure it is delivered as planned and evaluated to ensure it is meeting the desired outcomes.