From February 2017, information about the work of the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow is available and updated on the University of Glasgow website.

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Informing Healthy Public Policy

Understanding how new policies and interventions are publicly debated and influenced; how research evidence is best synthesised and presented for use in the policy making process; and what approaches work best for generating high quality, relevant, timely evidence, are all important for informing and improving public health. This programme combines these areas into three overlapping themes focused on understanding emerging health debates, understanding policy and using evidence, and evaluating health and social policies. Our aim in the next five years is to combine high quality, translational public health science with an in-depth understanding of the political context of the policy process. In the longer term, our vision is to become a leader in the field of improving the timely translation of scientific knowledge into policies and interventions to improve population health and reduce inequalities.

Background

Public health decision-makers and the public are exposed to a vast array of research evidence, often conflicting or uncertain. The framing and reporting of this evidence, through scientific, political and media channels, influences how people understand, use, and act on it. Research on these processes and the socio-political and cultural contexts in which they take place, could improve the way public health research is used to influence decision-makers and public perceptions. Key to understanding these processes is a better appreciation of the role of different actors in public health debate and policy-making, how and where they interact, and what other factors contribute to the successful translation of evidence into the development and implementation of healthy public policies.

An important constraint on public health policy-making is the evidence available to decision-makers. Even large-scale evaluations and comprehensive reviews of public health interventions are often disappointing, in the sense that findings are inconclusive or hard to apply to practical decisions. The common features of influential reviews need to be identified and codified in guidance. Likewise, the elements of a more fit for purpose approach to evaluation are often applied, but singly, rather than combined into a coherent package. These include early and sustained stakeholder involvement, rational priority setting, research designs resilient to external shocks, optimal use of routinely collected data and the reporting of findings in ways that decision-makers can readily apply.

Aims and Objectives

Our aims are to better understand and influence emerging social and public health debates, to improve the way research evidence is reported, synthesised and then used in the policy-making process, and to apply robust approaches to evaluating policy interventions.

Our first objective is to study how health issues, risks and evidence are understood and presented in major emerging public health and policy debates, by asking questions such as ‘How can we better examine emerging public health debates by combining research on actors, processes and contexts?’ Our second objective is to improve the reporting, synthesis and translation of public health evidence into policy and practice, by asking questions such as ‘How can we best combine high quality, translational public health science with an in-depth understanding of the democratic and political nature of policy-making?’ and ‘How can we improve the synthesis of the complex, heterogeneous evidence typical of population health intervention research?’ Our third is to identify, develop and apply robust approaches to evaluating major policy interventions and strategies, by asking questions such as ‘what methods work best in the evaluation of complex policy interventions’ and ‘are there novel approaches to evaluation in disciplines such as political science and economics that can be applied to public health evaluations?

For more information, please contact Peter Craig or Shona Hilton.