Discussion paper on strengthening EU evidence base to bring greater coherence to research data on illegal drugs, prepared for Council working party meeting on 7 November (link)

November 7, 2005

Brussels, 4 November 2005

Full text of Document 13963/05
Suite of documents 13963/05

3 November 2005

NOTE From: Presidency To: Horizontal Working Party on Drugs

Subject: Strengthening the EU evidence base what can we do to bring greater coherence to drugs research data across the EU?
Discussion paper for the meeting of 7 November 2005

The Issue

What is `evidence'?

1. Evidence is of vital importance at every stage of the process when tackling the drugs problem.

There is an increasing expectation at both the national and European level - that drug policies and practices should be based on a comprehensive understanding of all available best evidence to help develop and implement optimal outcomes.

2. Although evidence can take many forms, including data produced by monitoring systems, analysis of stakeholder consultations, and statistical modelling, this paper focuses on evidence produced by drugs research.

3. All sources of evidence (including research) must be methodologically rigorous and address the same fundamental questions:
* Are the results repeatable?
* Do the research results mean what they appear to?
* Can the results be generalised to other settings and to other populations?

4. These questions apply equally to evidence produced by both quantitative and qualitative techniques, and there is a need to recognise the value of complementary contributions from different methodological designs.

A strategic approach to evidence

5. If emerging evidence is to have a significant impact on policy and practice a strategic approach to its creation is required. Such an approach seeks to address corporately how research capacity can be developed and how research should be commissioned (and managed) to fill identified gaps in knowledge.

6. It is crucial to create a culture amongst policy makers and practitioners where evidence is a valued part of their decision making. Research findings are most useful when the research is timely; the evidence is clear and relevant; and the methodology is relatively uncontested.

7. Of course, a vast body of research on drug issues already exists. Systematic reviews are an innovative method for analysing existing research findings which seek to appraise critically and to synthesise the findings of all relevant and valid studies in a methodologically rigorous manner. Although the cost can be a barrier, such reviews can help to identify gaps and ambiguities in the knowledge base which occur partly due to the ever-changing nature of the drugs situation.

8. Ongoing partnerships and innovative collaborations between evidence providers, evidence users and other stakeholders (including citizens, non-profit organizations and businesses) should be actively encouraged as part of a strategic approach to the generation of new evidence.

9. While researchers need to understand the policy process, policy-makers need to gain a greater understanding about the research process and what it can accomplish in reasonable time. Policy makers and practitioners also need to be trained in how to interpret, use and apply evidence.

10. A strategic approach must also ensure the effective dissemination of findings, and a willingness to share information and experience. Easy access to up-to-date and reliable information requires some form of knowledge management system. The development of a cumulative knowledge base, such as online policy hubs, can promote effective sharing of results and information about research programmes.

Taking a strategic approach to evidence at the European and national level

11. The EU Drugs Strategy (15074/2004) and Action Plan (8652/1/2005) both reflect the need to take a strategic approach to evidence. In the field of information and research the Strategy identifies a number of priorities:

- Consolidating drug information systems, making full use of the EMCDDA and Europol.

- Fostering priority research topics at the European level.

- Promoting large-scale exchanges and dissemination of research results, experiences and good practices at Member State and Union levels, taking into account the work done by the relevant international organisations.

- Giving special attention to the training of professionals and to consulting private and public actors.

12. The Strategy also highlights that it is only by producing accurate and comparable data that we can measure the effectiveness of current policies and activities in the drugs field. Therefore, research and evaluation must encompass all aspects of drug policy.

13. As a result, the Action Plan indicates the need to maintain and strengthen the EU evidence base by:

- Providing reliable and comparable data on key epidemiological indicators (Objective 39).

- Providing reliable information on the drug situation (Objective 40).

- Developing clear information on emerging trends and patterns of drug use and drug markets (Objective 41).

- Promoting research in the field of drugs (Objective 43).

- Creating networks of excellence in drug research (Objective 44).

14. This discussion paper aims to stimulate progress on these objectives. The debate should enable Member States to exchange ideas on what we can do to bring greater coherence to drugs research data across the EU.

Question for discussion

- Given the advantages of scale that the Union should bring to the issue, how can we best bring coherence to drugs research across Europe?

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