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Communicating evidence to NHS boards

THIS Institute worked with RAND Europe and the Health Services Management Centre at the University of Birmingham on a rapid scoping study looking at the evidence needs of the boards of NHS organisations in England, and the most effective ways of communicating evidence to them.


There is increasing recognition that translating research into practice requires a wide range of strategies, and not just the publication of papers, reports, or guidelines. Different groups have different needs and preferences regarding the content and format of research evidence.

One key influence on the uptake of research findings in practice is the extent to which senior leaders in NHS organisations – notably those at board level – engage with evidence. The boards of NHS organisations are accountable for the quality of care and the financial security of their organisations, and have a key role in setting organisational priorities, strategies and actions. Because of these roles, boards are important groups to consider when communicating research evidence.

Recent research has focused on the role of boards in promoting quality and safety across their organisations as well as cost-effective care. Researchers have found variable practice, with factors like different leadership styles having important consequences for the priority given to quality and safety, and the approach an organisation takes to improvement.

However, research on how best to communicate the evidence around improvement, quality and safety to boards is scant. There has been limited research on the needs and preferences of NHS boards in England – particularly during times of rapid change. The importance of this has been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it’s been more vital than ever to effectively communicate the latest evidence so that leaders can take immediate action.


THIS Institute worked with RAND Europe and the Health Services Management Centre at the University of Birmingham on a rapid scoping study looking at the evidence needs of NHS organisations’ boards, and effective ways of communicating evidence to them.

The study considered the following questions:

  1. To what extent do boards use research evidence?
  2. What type of research evidence do boards need and use?
  3. What sources of research evidence do they view as most relevant and trustworthy?
  4. What evidence formats do they routinely consult? What do they view as the most helpful ways of communicating information?
  5. What influences the extent to which boards can engage with research evidence, particularly in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic?

The study involved qualitative interviews with board-level leaders across several organisations in English healthcare. The research covered case studies of various types of board, including NHS provider organisations and new integrated care systems. In each case study, the team carried out interviews with a range of board members, including clinical, non-clinical, executive and non-executive roles.

What we found

The types of research evidence used by NHS boards are diverse, and include clinical research evidence, evidence from health services research and organisational and management research.

The board members who took part in the study said that they engaged with research in different ways and had differing views about the extent, and ways in which they used research evidence as part of their activities.

We identified several influences on the way boards used research and found that they accessed research evidence through different routes, noting a significant appetite among board members to engage with research through simpler and more accessible formats.

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Funding and ethics

This study is funded by the Health Foundation’s grant to The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute (THIS Institute). It is independently led by THIS Institute, RAND Europe and the University of Birmingham. The study was reviewed by Psychology Research Ethics Committee.

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