Jan 31, 2022

What works for 'what works' centres

Learnings from system-level efforts to cultivate evidence informed practice

There is a gap between research and practice: a lag of approximately 17 years between what we “know” and what we “do”. This hinders best practice policy and programming across sectors.

In education this gap represents 2-3 generations of students unable to access approaches we’re already aware of that we know could improve outcomes. To address the gap, institutions (often called ‘what works’ centres or ‘evidence repositories’) work to identify and fill gaps in the evidence base and to translate evidence to improve decision-making and frontline practice.

The Australian Education Research Organisation (AERO), established in 2020 under the National School Reform Agreement, is Australia’s new independent education evidence body, established and funded by Commonwealth, state and territory governments. In its critical early stage of work, AERO sought CEI’s support to undertake a review into major, system-level efforts to cultivate evidence-based practice: an assessment of ‘what works for what works.’ The objective was to understand the successes and failures of evidence institutions and intermediaries, particularly in education, and what AERO can and should do differently in light of these insights.

The report is available here.

The research revealed seven commonly identified reasons why evidence centres may fail to deliver on their objectives to influence policy and practice:

  • Limited, if any, attendance to effective and sustainable implementation;
  • Lack of credibility with the field they are seeking to influence;
  • Presence of rigour but lack of relevance in the evidence they share;
  • Slow pace with which evidence is shared;
  • Insufficient awareness of how frontline practitioners, including educators, understand and use evidence;
  • Inappropriate skills and competencies in their workforces; and
  • Insufficient attention to and understanding of how to influence the policy process.

CEI identified five recommendations for AERO, focused on its strategic agenda, institutional role in the sector, external networks and stakeholder engagement, and internal organisation structure and competencies. The recommendations highlighted:

  • The importance in the first few years of an explicit focus on building credibility and relevance through engaging with practitioners and other system actors and defining its role in the system.
  • The imperative to centre policy influence as one of the top priorities in its strategic agenda, given the potential of policy to shape system-level change.
  • The need to build a diverse team that has the skills and competencies to drive evidence translation in education flexibly and adaptively.
  • The need to consider evidence uptake as its desired endpoint across all organisational strategic pillars.
  • The necessity of proactively building networks and capacity among stakeholders.

This research is particularly relevant for education sector audiences to understand how to narrow the ‘know-do’ gap between science and practice. Additionally, it seeks to support the use of evidence within education, in order that evidence is meaningfully translated to both pedagogical practice and policy.

The findings will inform AERO’s ongoing strategy.