Headlines: April 16th, 2003

Government departments need to identify and share best practice to improve the way they commission, manage and use research to help improve their services, according to the National Audit Office. In a report to Parliament today, it makes a number of key recommendations on the way research is  used.Sir John Bourn, the head of the NAO, says with the support of the Office of Science and Technology, departments have been modernising the way they deal  with research to support service delivery and improve policies. The recommendations in the report, entitled, “Getting The Evidence: Using Research in Policy Making” are designed to continue that process. They arise from a study compiled on behalf of the NAO by RAND Europe, which has looked into how a number of governments commission, manage and use research.

RAND, an independent think-tank, studied what happens in the United States, Canada, Germany, The Netherlands and Finland. In the UK civil government  departments spent 1.4 billion pounds on research and development in  1999-2000. In its three key recommendations today’s report says departments  need more strategic focus. They should be clear about their research aims,  establish coherent systems for procuring research and have a clear understanding of future research needs and capability and consult research users to  prioritise their requirements.

Secondly, departments need to be proactive and innovative in the way they disseminate and use research findings. It says that by developing targeted and innovative ways, departments will ensure that the potential impact of research is fully realised, leading to greater value for money.

Finally the study recommends more work should be done to identify and share best practice to improve the effectiveness of commissioning, managing and using research. There should be a programme of external reviews and interdepartmental benchmarking, with the Office of Science and Technology identifying best practice and considering how this can be shared by departments. The report says involving research users and providers in that process would ensure that this learning is transferred between the different stakeholder groups.