Home > Promoting evidence-based practice in drugs task forces.

Keane, Martin (2007) Promoting evidence-based practice in drugs task forces. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 24, Winter 2007, pp. 11-12.

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This article reports on the process and outcomes of work by the Alcohol and Drugs Research Unit (ADRU) of the Health Research Board (HRB) in collaboration with the National Drugs Strategy Team (NDST) in promoting good practice in reducing demand for drugs in local and regional drugs task forces.


This work is in response to the following EU and national policy objectives:

  • EU Drugs Action Plan 2005–2008 calls on the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and National Focal Points (NFPs)1 to  improve coverage and dissemination of, and access to, evaluated best practice in reducing demand for drugs.
  • Action 91 of the National Drugs Strategy calls on the NDST to disseminate models of best practice from the work of local and regional drugs task forces (LDTFs and RDTFs).

From May to July 2007 ADRU, in collaboration with the NDST, ran six workshops with representatives from the drugs task forces. The workshops introduced participants to:

  • Evidence-based practice (EBP) in drug prevention
  • EBP in rehabilitation and social reintegration as core components in an overall drug treatment response
  • the logic-model as a framework for designing good practice interventions

For the purpose of the workshops, EBP was defined as practice based on the findings of scientific research. The examples presented in the workshops were drawn from up-to-date systematic reviews on ‘what works’. This facilitated a discussion on the quality and relevance of published research and its usefulness to service providers.  


The workshops included a research exercise with representatives from the task forces to establish the following:  

  • To what extent is evidence from research used when strategic and operational plans are compiled?
  • What are the perceptions of and barriers to using research evidence?
  • How can the use of research evidence to inform policy and practice be supported in the future?

Data were collected through focus groups with nine regional drug co-ordinators, 15 development workers and a group of 10 people that included community liaison workers, project managers, RDTF community and voluntary representatives, and an RDTF chairperson.


The main findings from the focus groups were:

  • Regional and local drugs task forces, for the most part, have not used research to inform the development of their strategic response to drug use and associated problems.
  • The main obstacles to using an evidence-based approach appear to be cultural, with communities perceiving research as belonging to a different culture, that of the ‘ivory tower’ of academia, and having little relevance or application to the services being developed in communities.
  • This perceived cultural gap between research and practice in the communities often results in fear among service providers of engaging with research, which is often seen as complex and inconclusive
  • Services are usually planned using what was reported as ‘a top of the head approach’ – a mix of anecdotal evidence and personal experience – when deciding the most effective way to respond to a particular problem.

However, the focus groups also revealed a willingness to engage with and use research evidence to inform practice if the appropriate supports were in place. It was also felt that task force committees and sub-groups could be persuaded of the value of engaging with and using research evidence if the following measures were adopted:

  • Take research out of the perceived ‘ivory tower’ of research institutions and make it understandable and relevant to service providers.
  • Make research evidence available to communities in an accessible format that does not involve having to sift through cumbersome research reports.
  • Present research evidence in a way that allows service providers to assess the implications for their services.
  • Support communities with regular training and education workshops and give service providers quality follow-up support.

In early September 2007, the outcomes from the workshops were presented to the NDST, with recommendations to promote and develop an evidence-based culture in the drugs task forces. The recommendations were:

  • Design and run workshops on EBP, targeting task force committees (and then services).
  • Explore mechanisms to adopt and implement EBP with task force committees.
  • Identify and facilitate the use of evaluation techniques to assess the effectiveness of an evidence-based approach to service delivery.   
  • Provide technical assistance to task forces to enable them to design and implement small area studies that estimate the extent of drug use, and quality assessment criteria for interventions.
  • Liaise with service providers to identity information needs on ‘what works’ in identified areas.
  • Produce regular and up-to-date bulletins on EBP in specific domains, for example, school based prevention, selective prevention, and family support

 These recommendations are in line with the main outcomes from the focus groups, which identified a cultural gap between research and local practice. Consequently, there a need to try to bridge this gap using a staged approach to supporting local communities to shift from a ‘top of the head’ approach to the use of research evidence. The recommendations are also in line with the four main outcomes identified by Proctor2 that must be attained if EBPs are to be successfully adopted by practitioners:


  1. Motivate and facilitate agency-based practitioners to identify and access information about available EBPs that have been identified by others.
  2. Identify approaches to bring about acceptance of EBPs and facilitate adoption once identified and accepted.
  3. Identify methods that facilitate specific implementation of EBPs, for example, manuals, incentives.
  4. Identify methods to facilitate the evaluation of outcomes following implementation to permit feedback and revision.

 ADRU, in collaboration with the NDST, will continue to play a role in disseminating EBP to service providers in the regional and local drugs task forces. This work will be influenced by the ‘translational’ model of dissemination as advanced by Lawrence.3 This model is based on the idea ofresearch being translated by ‘knowledge brokers’, making it policy and practice relevant. This approach is seen as more useful than the traditional linear approach to dissemination, which assumes that, when research evidence is made available, practitioners have the time and interest to read and interpret the results and apply them to practice. 


 1. The Alcohol and Drug Research Unit (ADRU) is the Irish National Focal Point (NFP) of the EMCDDA.

2. Proctor EK (2004) Leverage points for the implementation of evidence-based practice. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 4(3): 227–242.

3. Lawrence R (2006) Research dissemination: actively bringing the research and policy worlds together. Evidence and Policy, 2(3): 373–384.


Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Intervention Type
Education and training
Issue Title
Issue 24, Winter 2007
October 2007
Page Range
pp. 11-12
Health Research Board
Issue 24, Winter 2007
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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