Cultures of evidence across policy sectors: systematic review of qualitative evidence

Eur J Public Health. 2014 Dec;24(6):1041-7. doi: 10.1093/eurpub/cku038. Epub 2014 Mar 27.


Background: It is important to understand the decision-making process, and the role of research evidence within it, across sectors other than health, as interventions delivered within these sectors may have substantial impacts on public health and health inequalities.

Methods: Systematic review of qualitative evidence. Twenty-eight databases covering a range of sectors were searched. Studies were eligible if they included local decision-makers in a policy field relevant to the social determinants of health (including housing, transport, urban planning and regeneration, crime, licensing or trading standards), were conducted in a high-income country, and reported primary qualitative data on perceptions of research evidence. Study quality was assessed and a thematic synthesis undertaken.

Results: Sixteen studies were included, most using interview designs, and most focusing on planning or transport policy. Several factors are seen to influence decision-makers' views of evidence, including practical factors such as resources or organizational support; the credibility of the evidence; its relevance or applicability to practice; considerations of political support or feasibility; and legislative constraints. There are limited data on how evidence is used: it is sometimes used to not only support decision-making, but also to lend legitimacy to decisions that have already been made.

Conclusion: Although cultures of evidence in non-health sectors are similar to those in health in some ways, there are some key differences, particularly as regards the political context of decision-making. Intersectoral public health research could benefit from taking into account non-health decision makers' needs and preferences, particularly around relevance and political feasibility.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making
  • Evidence-Based Practice*
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Public Health*
  • Social Determinants of Health*