Musings on research, international development and other stuff

Supply and demand in evidence-informed policy – this time with pictures!


I have talked before about supply and demand in evidence-informed policy but I decided to revisit the topic with some sophisticated visual aids. I am aware that using the using the model of supply/demand has been criticised as over-simplifying the topic – but I still think it is a useful way to think about the connections between research evidence and policy/practice (plus, to be honest, I am fairly simple!).

You can distinguish between supply and demand by considering ‘what is the starting point?’. If you are starting with the research (whether its a single piece of research or a body of research on a given topic) and considering how it may achieve policy influence, you are on the supply side…

In contrast, those on the demand side, typically start with a decision (or a decision-making process) and consider how research can feed into this decision…

#This distinction may seem obvious, but I think it is often missed. What this means in practice is an explosion of approaches to evidence-informed policy/practice which attempt to push more and more evidence out there in expectation that more supply will lead to a better world…


One problem with this is that if your supply approaches focus on just one research project – or one side of a debate – they risk going against evidence-informed policy


*Science monster usually lives here – she is just visiting my blog today


Some supply approaches do aim to increase access to a range of research and to synthesise and communicate where the weight of evidence lies. However, even these approaches are destined to fail if there is not a corresponding increase in demand…


I think we should continue to support supply-side activities but I  think we also need to get better at supporting the demand. So what would this look like in practice?

For me the two components of demand are the motivation (whether intrinsic or extrinsic) and the capacity (i.e. the knowledge, skills, attitudes, structures, systems etc) to use research. In other words, you need to want to use research and you need to be able to do so.

Motivation can be improved by enhancing the organisational  culture of evidence use – but also by putting systems in place which mandate and/or reward evidence use…

Achieving this in practice needs the support of senior decision makers within a policy making institution. So for example the UK Department for International Development has transformed the incentives to use research evidence since Prof Chris Whitty came in as the Chief Scientific Advisor and Head of Research.

But incentives on their own are not enough. There also needs to be capacity and it needs to exist at multiple levels; at an organisational level, there needs to be structural capacity such as adequate internet bandwidth, access to relevant academic journals etc etc. At an individual level, those involved in the policy making process need to be ‘evidence-literate’ – i.e. they need to know whaat research evidence is, where they can find it, how they can appraise it, how to draw lessons from evidence for policy decisions etc etc…

Achieving this may require a new recruitment strategy – selecting people for employment who already have a good understanding of research evidence. But continuing professional development courses can also be used to ‘upskill’ existing staff.

Anyway, the above is basically a pictural summary of this paper in the IDS bulletin so if you would like to read about the same topic in more academic terms (and without the pictures!) please do check it out. Its not open access I’m afraid so if you want a copy please tweet me @kirstyevidence or leave a comment below.

Hope you liked the pictures!

23 thoughts on “Supply and demand in evidence-informed policy – this time with pictures!

  1. Hi Kirsty, I think this is an amazing post congratulations on doing it! I have tried to simplify knowledge brokering in a couple of short booklets which I think capture the same issue i.e. there has to be two sides to an exchange of knowledge, one to give and one to receive, and it can go either way, hence the need for versatile brokers who can handle this process independently and without bias to one side or the other. See:

  2. Great post Kirsty. Really presents the issues clearly, logically and I think convincingly. Regarding the pictures, Tony Hart and Rolf Harris bust be worried!

  3. Hello Kristy, great post and very illuminating pictures. Can you please send me the paper from the IDS bulletin in pdf ? Thanks!

  4. Yes can I read the full paper please? I would like to write a blog about how politicans can best engage with science monster. A lot of us Lib Dems say we are interested in evidenced based policy making and I’d like to make that a reality

  5. Please can I have a copy too! Loved the approach!
    (not to de-rail but one issue we have as we move to far more evidence based approaches is that patient expereince is seen as anecdata, so we develop tools like PREMS and PROMS but many medics still see that as “soft” data)

  6. Such a beautiful artistic interpretation of Science Monster, I love it so much. Good job and an interesting article. I don’t really think about policy at all, so it was really good for me to read this.

  7. Interesting (and great visuals) but much too steady state. Demand for research is very spiky – officials and pols come looking for it at particular moments – after scandals, shocks, failures, changes of leadership. For researchers, readiness is all, but we are usually very unagile in responding to these spikes unless they coincide with our research and dissemination cycle.

  8. Dear Kirsty. Thoroughly enjoyed the illustrated version and intrigued to compare with the paper, to see what each medium achieves. Thanks John

  9. Dear Kirsty,
    This illustrations are very useful.

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  11. Nice points, although your third picture means I now have an unfortunate mental image of superman underpants whenever policy briefs are mentioned…

  12. Kirsty, can you email me the summary that was published?

  13. very well written. could I also get the summary that was published? Thanks

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  17. Kristy, Interesting article. I was wondering if I could use one of your graphics ( in an article I’m writing on I would of course credit the image to you and provide a link back here to this article. My squidoo profile page where you can find a list of all my articles is Cheers!

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  21. Excellent illustrated summary of your earlier published work, Kirsty. Kindly send me a copy of the book `Stimulating Demand for Research Evidence: What Role for Capacity-building’

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