Evidence into policy What works in ageing

As the implications of Australia’s ageing population are realised, older people and their concerns are gaining increasing prominence on the policy agenda. While Australia is, demographically speaking, a somewhat young country, with only 12% of its population aged 65+ at the end of the 20th century, this is expected to rise to 18% by 2021 and 26% by 2051. To address this situation a National Strategy for an Ageing Australia has been formulated to provide a policy framework for governments, business, communities and individuals to meet the needs of Australians as they age. A range of strategies and policies has also been initiated at the State level, including Queensland which produced Our Shared Future: Framework for Ageing 2000-2004 and more recently Queensland Families: Future Directions. The Australasian Centre on Ageing at the University of Queensland is partly supported by the Seniors Interests Unit in Queensland’s Department of Families.

Despite the recent development of strategies, frameworks and policies to address demographic ageing at the national and state level in Australia, it is nevertheless unclear how much research evidence is considered as part of the policy making process and whether research priorities are actually derived from a systematic appraisal of the existing evidence. While there is increasing attention given to the uptake of research findings into practice, for example in health and social care, less attention has been paid to the level and use of evidence to inform macro-decisions by government and other policy makers. The social science literature suggests different models by which research findings are used by policy makers (Davies, Nutley and Smith, 2000). These range from a knowledge-driven model (direct transfer of knowledge to policy) to models involving a more gradual process of diffusion. Some of the barriers to research utilisation in ageing policy in Australia have been suggested by Kendig et al. (2000), but a greater understanding of the factors influencing effective evidence based policy making (EBPM) is needed and of the levels of evidence that are used to inform this process.

Agenda setting for ageing policy is at a crucial stage of development in Australia and if the policy process is to be informed by research, it is important to identify models for effective working at the research/policy interface. The contribution of research to the development of ageing policy requires greater attention. The Australasian Centre of Ageing has recently completed a partnership project with the Queensland Department of Premier and Cabinet to examine the factors contributing to effective utilisation of evidence in policy, including the respective roles of older people, researchers and policy makers. Broad strategies for more effective working at the research-policy interface were in ageing policy were identified. The study identified a number of action areas including behaviour change through education and training, culture shift within government, increased coordination of resources, knowledge management, research prioritisation, partnerships, and community engagement. The proposed workshop would take forward some of the thinking from this study and provide an opportunity to test the principles of evidence-based policy in an area which is of concern to governments in Australia and overseas.

The Academy sponsored workshop:

  • Fostered a closer engagement between academics, policy-makers and providers in understanding the concept of evidence based policy making.
  • Explored the questions and issues behind the commitment to evidence-based policy.
  • Using ageing as the focus, established guidelines of good practice for evidence based policy making, including mechanisms for engagement.

Individuals with recognised expertise in relation to ageing, policy development, knowledge management and research from a wide range of disciplines were invited to assess the current evidence base on EBPM and to identify practical strategies for ageing based on this analysis.

The workshop utilised the findings of the recent project on the ageing research and policy agenda completed by ACA, examining the strategic implications as themes for further exploration and development. In particular, participants were encouraged to draw on examples of good practice to inform the debate:

  • Prioritising the ageing research agenda: directions of influence.
  • What works what doesn’t – how to build an evidence base.
  • Knowledge management and dissemination.
  • Do partnerships work? Collaboration between the research, policy and practice sectors.
  • Engaging providers and practitioners.
  • Fostering community engagement in policy development.
  • Working towards a culture shift within government.
  • Education and training for behaviour change.

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