Seven principles of better adoption of evidence in practice, from new MeReC bulletin


The most recent MeReC Bulletin (December 2011) considers the problem of the implementation gap: the best evidence often does not get adopted quickly into practice. It highlights relevant evidence and ideas from educational theory, decision-making theory, information management and implementation science and brings them together in one place. It is intended to encourage a fresh approach to difficult challenges.

This bulletin will be of interest to everyone whose job involves introducing evidence-based changes to practice. These changes may include health technologies such as medicines, but also treatment pathways, ways of working or similar, which are new or at least new to their potential users.

Several principles can be identified from the evidence and models highlighted in the bulletin. These are summarised below:

  1. Aim for adoption of the change in practice, not its imposition. Sustained change is most likely if those affected come to value the change and ‘own it’ for themselves. Raising awareness and stimulating interest (addressing the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question) can lead to a decision to change and action to do so. Use a targeted, multifaceted approach to ‘help it happen’.
  2. Consider the concerns and questions of potential adopters. Potential adopters are likely to question the rationale behind the change in practice, especially if it appears to conflict with their previous assumptions and knowledge. Instead of attempting just to transmit information, aim to help people build new knowledge and understanding from and onto their prior knowledge. Recognise and address the need people have for a motivation which they value to learn more about the evidence and the proposed change in practice, and stimulate tension for change.
  3. Make it easier for people to do the right thing. Potential adopters are also likely to have questions and concerns about how they can put the proposed change to work in their particular situation. They need help and support to do this. Changing ways of doing things which have become habits is hard, even when one is strongly motivated to do so. Prompts, reminders, feedback, etc. are likely to be helpful but must be tailored to the problems adopters face.
  4. Support effective foraging, hunting and hot-synching. Practitioners face a daily flood of information. Supporting effective Information Mastery will help them manage this, and can also help them put the information with which they are presented into context, especially if this appears to challenge or undermine the proposed change in practice.
  5. Recognise and support the communities of practice in which potential adopters work. People acquire and make sense of new information, and form the mindlines which drive their practice, largely by brief reading and talking to other people. Getting the support of the community(ies) of practice is crucial for extensive adoption of evidence into practice, and ‘boundary spanners’ are likely to be particularly important in encouraging its diffusion.
  6. Allow potential adopters to experiment with and adapt the change in practice to their situation. The context in each setting is unique and so local adaptation of the change in practice and/or its implementation will usually be required. Successful adoption is more likely if adopters have the opportunity and autonomy to adapt and tailor it to their particular needs and circumstances. This needs to occur within clear ethical and governance arrangements.
  7. Plan carefully but be flexible and adaptable. Planning is indispensable, but plans must respond to changing circumstances and the needs and challenges of potential adopters. Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Appropriate, Realistic and Time-bound) objectives, consider piloting changes, and include end-users in the planning to ensure that the change and its implementation are relevant to their needs.

Supporting adoption of evidence into practice. MeRec Bulletin, Volume 22 Number 2, Dec 2011.

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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