Doing evidence-informed policy the Nordic way

My recent OpEd in The Independent calling for more evidence-based policy in the UK, said they do it better in Nordic countries. I expanded on that a bit in a recent blog. So just who is doing what in the Nordic countries?

In each of Denmark, Norway and Sweden there are evidence synthesis groups working on social welfare. The Danish National Centre for Social Research (SFI) in Copenhagen receives money each year from the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Interior to produce systematic reviews to publish with Campbell. The Unit for Social Welfare Research at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) in Oslo receives an annual provision from five government directorates – Children, Youth and Family Affairs; Integration and Diversity (IMDi); Health; State Housing Bank; and the Labour and Welfare Organization – to produce reviews. Policy makers from the State Housing Bank and Labour and Welfare will be at the What Works Global Summit (WWGS) in London next month discussing how this process works to improve policy and practice. And the Swedish Agency for Health Technology Assessment and Assessment of Social Services (SBU) had its mandate extended in 2015 to include reviews of the effectiveness of social programmes.

SFI, FHI and SBU are all publicly-funded research agencies who determine their research priorities in consultation with government agencies, stakeholders, professionals and clients. Study findings inform policy, guidelines, and spending decisions.

These agencies produce a range of products. For example, SBU has a long history of producing high-quality systematic reviews in Swedish. SBU’s main product is HTA-reports, that is apart from systematic reviews on effects, they also include economic, organizational and ethical issues of interventions. SBU also documents what it calls ‘scientific uncertainties’, a presentation of an evidence and gap map highlighting where evidence is weak or lacking altogether. An annual call for proposals is made to fill gaps in the health field. SBU also runs a Remarks Service, which produces policy friendly summaries of recent evidence synthesis products, and an Enquiry Service, which provides summaries of the scientific literature in response to specific questions received, a recent example being ‘effects from a good reception in social care’. Staff from SBU will be WWGS presenting each of these approaches.

More recent additions to the Nordic evidence infrastructure are the Norwegian Knowledge Centre for Education and the Swedish Institute for Educational Research (Skolforskningsinstitutet), government-funded agencies operating in the same model as their social welfare counterparts. Whilst the Swedish Institute for Educational Research is just starting out on its first reviews, their Norwegian counterpart has produced a number, most recently on the effect of teacher assessment practices on school quality. Both agencies will be presenting their work at WWGS. The Danish Clearinghouse for Educational Research is an exception to all the above as it is a unit at a university, located in the School of Education at Aarhus University. In addition to systematic reviews, the Clearinghouse also publishes ‘systematic research maps’, another form of evidence and gap map.

The work of these national agencies is complemented by other agencies. For example the Centre for Child Mental Health (R-BUP) aims at improving services in Eastern and Southern Norway through knowledge translation and training, including producing systematic reviews.

The idea of improving policy and practice decisions, by producing and utilizing knowledge summaries seems increasingly embedded across Nordic social agencies. Policy makers value systematic reviews, and have some understanding of the time and money taken to produce a full systematic review to high standards rather than risking bias by cutting corners. To join the discussion of how we may learn more from this experience register now for the What Works Global Summit.

From my perspective it is regrettable that these agencies mostly produce reviews for their national audience but, other than those for SFI, they don't go in the Campbell Library and so reach a global audience. Another item for discussion at WWGS.

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