AHSW's Director, Trustees, and Members reflect on various aspects of arts, health and wellbeing.

Using the Evidence Base for Arts and Health

Alex Coulter explores ‘Evidence for Success: The guide to getting evidence and using it’,  published in August 2014. This guide is aimed at the Third Sector and helping them maximize the impact of the knowledge and evidence they are generating.

This diagram, shown to me by Bournemouth University academics, is useful in understanding ‘Evidence Based Healthcare’

‘Evidence for Success: The guide to getting evidence and using it’, was published in August 2014. This guide is aimed at the Third Sector and helping them maximize the impact of the knowledge and evidence they are generating and was produced as part of a project: the Knowledge Translation Network in Scotland in 2012. It provides guidance on how to use evidence to influence policy and practice. I have summarised some of what it says, below.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines evidence as “the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid”. The term can cover a wide spectrum, from the results of randomized control trials to qualitative feedback from services users. The guide outlines how you can generate evidence that is relevant, robust and persuasive and how it can then be used to influence (i) internal policy and practice; (ii) external policy and practice, and (iii) future funding and commissioning decisions.

It does cover gathering your own evidence but also points out that if your evidence is supported by a wider body of evidence it will carry more weight when you come to use it, and will be more likely to help you influence policy and practice. They quote Professor Sandra Nutley, University of St Andrews: ‘Clearly, if you link your individual findings to what others have found there’ll be more weight behind them and, as you’ll be talking about more than one study, they will be more difficult for people to dismiss. It’s about showing how your findings fit with an existing body of work.’ Learning about what other organisations have found to work can inform your own practice and planning as well.

In the section on influencing policy it recommends networking with others to find allies and check your message is clear; and tailoring the message and delivery mechanism to the particular policy audience (e.g. a civil servant, a Minister or a Councillor). Writing reports and sending them is not enough; building relationships is key. Getting endorsements, finding advocates and sharing evidence to provoke debate can all raise the profile of your work and that of others in your networks. I am doing as much of this as I can and am always grateful for any evidence that you want to share.

Section 3 of the guide is on how to use evidence to influence funding and commissioning decisions. Local and national government officials will often rely on practitioners and researchers to bring evidence to their attention about what is working and what isn’t working. The guide recommends you outline, as a minimum: (i) why your work is needed and how you know this; (ii) what you want to do to meet that need and what outcomes your evidence suggest will be achieved through this approach; (iii) how you’ll monitor and evaluate your work to know if it achieves its intended outcomes, and (iv) how much this will cost. You should also inform yourself about commissioners areas of interest and any deadlines, keep up to date with key local strategies to identify priorities and who the stakeholders are. Case studies can be a useful way to illustrate the impact of your work on service users, but they will be more persuasive if combined with other evidence about impact. Finally, the guide lists the 10 top tips to use evidence for success.

I hope you find it useful! You can download it at the bottom of this page.


Alexandra Coulter
Director, Arts & Health South West

November 2014

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'Evidence for Success' is available in its entirety as a downloadable PDF document. Click the button to download or click here to open in your browser.


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