This research focused two responsive research schemes: the Public Health Practitioner Evaluation Scheme (PHPES) run by the NIHR School for Public Health Research (SPHR); and Fuse’s ‘AskFuse’ service. Researchers examined research requests submitted to both schemes between 2013 and 2015 and selected case studies for further investigation. Interviews were conducted with public health professionals and researchers involved in the case studies. PHPES is a national, competitive, grant-awarding scheme which offers public health professionals support to evaluate local interventions in partnership with SPHR researchers. AskFuse is a regional responsive research and evaluation scheme operated by Fuse, a national centre of excellence in public health research. AskFuse provides public health professionals with a portal to access research expertise across the five North East Universities. It supports all requests for help with evidence and research, including evaluations of local interventions.
Public health professionals who had not submitted an application to AskFuse, or who had submitted an unsuccessful application to PHPES, were also interviewed. This provided a comparison with those who had been successfully involved in either scheme. In total 18 interviews were conducted, 11 with public health professionals and seven with researchers. The interviews were transcribed and analysed qualitatively. Researchers verified and expanded on the findings in a stakeholder workshop with a selected group of public health professionals and academics to identify solutions that could increase the co-production of evidence.
Public health professionals thought research evidence important, particularly when they had to justify financial decisions. However, there was consensus that public health professionals and researchers did not always mean the same thing by ‘evidence’ and that the type of evidence produced by researchers was not always the same as the type of evidence required in practice. Main barriers to approaching and engaging with research related to: cost, timescales and finding the right people. Rigorous research is expensive and the cost is often unaffordable by local public health teams. In public health practice, local problems are often identified and solutions needed within short timescales. Researchers are often unable to deliver in these timescales. Since the move of public health to local authorities there has been an increasing reliance on ‘soft’ or grey evidence, rather than rigorous research evidence.
Solutions proposed to bridge the gap between research and practice communities included enhancing mutual awareness of roles, structures and constraints, and establishing systems to facilitate co-production of research that meets local needs, while achieving scientific rigour.
SPHR final report: How do public health professionals view and engage with research