101 | Evidence-informed practice: A beginner’s guide
With an increasing number of government departments and funders moving towards outcomes-based funding, service providers and organisations are regularly being asked to incorporate evidence into the decisions and justifications they make about program design, delivery, and evaluation.
15 May 2023
The incorporation of evidence across design, delivery and evaluation can support positive outcomes for program beneficiaries and end users. This ensures that initiatives are more likely to achieve their planned outcomes and positively impact communities.
Evidence-based practice and evidence-informed practice are two concepts frequently mentioned when considering ways of incorporating evidence into project design, delivery, and evaluation. While often these concepts are used interchangeably, it’s important to know that they’re not the same.
Evidence-based practice is when decisions are made based solely on the existing research evidence available – through journals, research papers, studies, or books. Evidence-based practice has evolved from the medical field and can be a little inflexible in its application in community development. This is because evidence-based practice may not consider the needs and circumstances specific to a community, or the people for whom a program, project or service is being designed.
On the other hand, an evidence-informed approach to project design, delivery and evaluation considers research evidence alongside practitioner expertise and lived experience knowledge. In evidence-informed practice, research is only one of the evidentiary inputs used, enabling the evidence-informed approach to be person-centred and respond to context. Adopting this approach allows project managers to meet end-user needs in the best possible ways.
The three types of evidence that are regularly included in evidence-informed practice are research, practitioner and lived experience evidence.
- Research evidence comes from finding and applying research conducted externally to a specific initiative. It provides credible knowledge to project, program or service design through rigorous research methods, and answers questions relating to the social problem or opportunity your project aims to address. Research evidence might include cohort studies, qualitative research, surveys, and systematic reviews available in journals, research papers, studies, or books.
- Practitioner evidence uses the expertise and experience of practitioners working in a specific field in the design and delivery of initiatives. Practitioner evidence can include skills, knowledge and observations developed by individuals or organisations over time.
- Lived experience evidence comes from the actual, specific way in which people experience something. Examples might include how someone experiences homelessness, the ways in which people access specific services, or how people live with chronic illness. Lived experience evidence, therefore, is knowledge held, and shared, by individuals or communities. Lived experience evidence can be collected through research methods, or through actively collaborating and co-designing projects alongside those with lived experience.
By blending knowledge gathered from each type of evidence mentioned above, initiative design and delivery becomes a more inclusive process while simultaneously decreasing the impact of individual and organisational bias on a project or program. Importantly, evidence-informed practice acknowledges that knowledge and understanding evolve over time, as needs change.
Additionally, approaching initiative design, delivery, and development with multiple evidentiary inputs can facilitate innovation and adaptation. The evidence gathered from practitioners and those with lived experience can often uncover new ways of thinking about and responding to community needs with place-based and human-centric approaches.
Collecting evidence from multiple sources can be an important tool that helps organisations communicate to stakeholders how outcomes will be achieved and why a particular approach has been chosen as the appropriate intervention for a specific community.
By using the best available knowledge from research, practitioner experience and lived experience, evidence-informed practice increases accountability and transparency in decision making and enables community-centred solutions.
Acknowledgement of Country
The Western Australian Community Impact Hub acknowledges and pays respect to the Traditional Owners of the land on which we are based, the Whadjuk people of the Noongar Nation and extends that respect to all the Traditional Owners and Elders of this country. We recognise the significant importance of their cultural heritage, values and beliefs and how these contribute to the positive health and wellbeing of the whole community.