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Just occasionally you get a moment in your career where you can think ‘we did a really good job of that’, and this year the research team has pulled out all the stops. We have committed in excess of £7m to support high impact research in the past 12 months. This has included funding teams to explore labour productivity in health and social care and workforce retention in non-hospital settings, and how to use behavioural interventions to improve efficiency and reduce waste in health care. We also launched two new calls for innovative research, based on our successful Insights programme and our work on the social and economic value of health

But funding is only part of the research process. Goethe said that 'knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do’. And – at a time of huge financial pressure on the wider health system – we have an important part to play in this process. 

At the Health Foundation, we think our independence means we are well placed to encourage the better use of evidence to influence policy and practice. As a research team we have set ourselves the Herculean task of making sure we increase the impact of the research that we fund. We want to support researchers, policymakers and people working in the NHS and beyond to use the evidence generated by our funding to encourage the better design of services, systems and the workforce. In turn, this will improve the quality of care, support the sustainability of the NHS and social care, and promote better health. 

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach so we’re trying out a number of different mechanisms, such as offering up to £50k for existing award holders to come up with innovative and original ideas for supporting the shift of evidence into practice. This month we spoke to one of the recipients of this award, Dr Gioia Mosler, about how her project brought her research into asthma and young people to life through theatre

We’re also working with researchers to learn what works, when and how – exploring what we can do to use research and evaluation to inform innovation and improvement in health care as it evolves, not just at the end of the project or when the final report is in. 

So much of this relies on the relationships between innovators and the people implementing the change. On this topic, Dr Nicola Burgess discusses the importance of carving out formal spaces for relaxed talk if you want to spread knowledge to drive improvement. She draws on early findings from our joint evaluation with NHS Improvement of the NHS Partnership with the Virginia Mason Institute. 

The Health Foundation recently committed to its largest investment to date in evidence implementation, with a £15m joint award with the Economic and Social Research Council. This will support innovation and improvement in adult social care through a UK-wide Centre designed to help support evidence implementation. The Centre will do this by bringing together academics and experts in evidence use and implementation, with people with lived experience and those working in the sector to make sure evidence reaches frontline practice. 

We are also looking at ways we can increase capacity and capability for better evaluation at a local level through our programme awards for 2020, supporting teams to develop the necessary expertise to use evidence in their day-to-day work.

In his interview this month, Stephen Aldridge, the Director for Analysis and Data at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, highlighted the need to support academic teams to build networks across government. We’re supporting this by building a programme of events across the Foundation, using the research that we fund to generate conversations and action – more on that to follow, keep an eye on twitter for updates.  

Finally, we need to think carefully about how we learn from our approaches, using evaluation to understand the impact of our activities, so that as the Foundation builds its reputation for working with policy and practice we are actively contributing to improving health and health care across the UK. 

Usha Boolaky (@UBoolaky) is Assistant Director for Research at The Health Foundation.

This content originally featured in our email newsletter, which explores perspectives and expert opinion on a different health or health care topic each month.

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