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“Evidence”: What Does that Mean?

In our health information outreach work we are expected to provide evidence of the value of our work, but there are varying definitions of the word “evidence.” The classical evidence-based medicine approach (featuring results from randomized controlled clinical trials) is a model that is not always relevant in our work. At the 2013 EBLIP7 meeting in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, Denise Kaufogiannakis presented a keynote address that is now available as an open-access article on the web:

“What We Talk About When We Talk About Evidence” Evidence-Based Library and Information Practice 2013 8.4

This article looks at various interpretations of what it means to provide “evidence” such as theoretical (ideas, concepts and models to explain how and why something works), empirical (measuring outcomes and effectiveness via empirical research), and experiential (people’s experiences with an intervention).

Kaufogiannakis points out that academic librarians’ decisions are usually made in groups of people working together and she proposes a new model for evidence-based library and information practice:

1) Articulate – come to an understanding of the problem and articulate it. Set boundaries and clearly articulate a problem that requires a decision.

2) Assemble – assemble evidence from multiple sources that are most appropriate to the problem at hand. Gather evidence from appropriate sources.

3) Assess – place the evidence against all components of the wider overarching problem. Assess the evidence for its quantity and quality. Evaluate and weigh evidence sources. Determine what the evidence says as a whole.

4) Agree – determine the best way forward and if working with a group, try to achieve consensus based on the evidence and organizational goals. Determine a course of action and begin implementation of the decision.

5) Adapt – revisit goals and needs. Reflect on the success of the implementation. Evaluate the decision and how it has worked in practice. Reflect on your role and actions. Discuss the situation
with others and determine any changes required.

Kaufogiannakis concludes by reminding us that “Ultimately, evidence, in its many forms, helps us find answers. However, we can’t just accept evidence at face value. We need to better understand evidence – otherwise we don’t really know what ‘proof’ the various pieces of evidence provide.

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