Utilisation and influence of research in Scottish national mental health policy making
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/12/2100
McLean, Joanne Findlay
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This thesis explores in which ways and why research informs and influences the public policy making process, and the extent to which existing theories and models add to our understanding of this. Since the late 1990s, the UK government has aspired to evidence-based policy making, particularly policy that is informed by research on what works. In practice, there are many barriers to this aspiration and the instrumental research use of ‘what works’ knowledge seems relatively rare. Existing research utilisation models offer some insights into why this is the case but they are not well supported by empirical evidence and they tend to underplay the complexities of the policy making process. Additional insights are provided by the literature on the policy process, but this does not pay much attention to research use. This thesis thus combines these perspectives. The thesis is guided by a conceptual framework that combines insights from the advocacy coalition framework (ACF), the stages heuristic, the research utilisation typology, practical rationality and the epistemic communities framework. Two qualitative case studies of Scottish national mental health policy making are considered using this conceptual framework: a suicide prevention policy and a review of mental health law. Data analysis combines 23 in-depth interviews and extensive document review. The ACF is used as a heuristic device to focus on aspects of the policy sub-system that are key to understanding research use. The findings demonstrate that despite limited research evidence on what works in mental health, research was used in the agenda setting and formulation stages of the policy making process, enriching the process and influencing policy sub-system dynamics. Five types of research use are identified; they do not occur in isolation but are layered and interlinked, and are at times contingent on one another. Research use is found to be bound up with the ways in which those involved in the policy making process work with others who share or oppose their policy beliefs, using similar or different knowledge bases. Research influenced policy beliefs, which in turn influenced policy making behaviour. Discussion of research enabled the inclusion, consideration and appreciation of new and different policy positions. It empowered weaker coalitions as well as cementing coalition dominance. It influenced policy direction and encouraged innovation and policy learning. The findings indicate that the current common usage of three categories of research use (instrumental, conceptual and political) may be too crude; real benefit was gained from applying Weiss’ original seven research use types. Combining Weiss’ research utilisation typology with the ACF deepened understanding of how research influences the policy making process. The findings only partially support the ACF hypotheses concerning research use, and they highlight weaknesses in a number of the ACF’s assumptions and definitions. In terms of policy implications, the findings indicate a need to broaden governments’ view of research use from an almost exclusive focus on the problem-solving use of ‘what works’ research knowledge to a wider appreciation of the ways in which research contributes to and enhances policy making.