CoLab addresses gap between science and decision making

Department news | October 30, 2020

Our communities are currently experiencing the catastrophic effects of poor behavioral health research-to-practice translation. Typical pathways to sharing evidence from academic science are useful but haphazard. The most common methods rely on the motivation of clinician scientists to license and market mental and behavioral health innovations or to tolerate the complexity and chaos of policymaking. Not only does this rely on the unpredictable motivations and capacities of researchers, it can lead to misuses of research, particularly when evidence is pitted against equity and community ownership.

The team at the CoLab for Community and Behavioral Health Policy directed by Sarah Walker, PhD, are engaged with scholars in and outside of the University of Washington to tackle the research-to-practice gap from the inside out. This means cultivating a deep understanding of decision making from inside these systems, and then generating methods that incorporate evidence-informed information into routine processes. Starting from the system and community perspective offers exciting opportunities to reimagine how evidence can be integrated with community expertise to drive policy. For example, the CoLab is partnering with the Northwest Center for Public Health Practice on a Health Equity Codesign Project with the Tacoma-Pierce County Public Health Department. This project is integrating information from 19 community listening sessions with an evidence review of health equity policy and using community codesign methods to develop behavioral health solutions tailored to this region. Within the department, the CoLab is partnering with Larry Wissow, MD, MPH, Freda Liu, PhD, and the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Seattle Children’s Hospital to codesign innovative service delivery methods to address equity issues. The CoLab is committed to producing research on whether these methods are effective in balancing evidence and community concerns. For example, a recent grant from the William T. Grant Foundation will fund a study of how juvenile court leaders around the country are accessing and applying research as they grapple with significant system transformations.

The CoLab also houses the Evidence-Based Practice Institute (EBPI), a state-funded initiative to promote effective treatment in publicly funded mental health services for children and youth. In collaboration with the Washington State HealthCare Authority, the EBPI works to integrate science-based knowledge into routine policy levers, including payer contracts, quality reviews, value-based payment, legislative proposals, and performance monitoring. This requires collaboration with clinician researcher experts and the CoLab/EBPI has partnered with (and is very grateful for!) a number of topic experts in the department in the development of research reviews, clinical guides and policy language.