The aim of the Local Authority Champions of Research study, funded by the Health Foundation, was to explore a culture of research and evidence use to improve population health could be embedded in local government (LG).
We found no shared agreement about ‘what counts’ as evidence in LG, with multiple cultures of evidence use co-existing. LA staff who participated in this study were keen to use evidence to inform their work and some felt their research skills were underused. Practical examples of innovative approaches to evidence use were identified in a changing landscape, including research champions and embedded researchers, operating in different ways as knowledge mobilisers and change agents. Organisational churn, rising demands, fragmentation, siloed thinking, data sharing, governance and access issues, capacity, workload and resource pressures limit the ability, time and space to use evidence as a part of routine decision making.
There is a need for academics to adapt their approach, understand the social, political, financial and regulatory context of LG. With the right approach, as part of multi-agency teams, researchers can maximise opportunities for research evidence to inform, and support, decision making alongside other forms of knowledge, including from policy makers, practitioners, politicians and the public. This requires trusting, respectful relationships, a nuanced understanding of context, and for all partners to work together to create a system wide approach to promoting evidence use and creation across LG in partnership with wider stakeholders.