The Report of the rapid expert review of the National Drugs Strategy 2009−2016 noted that one of the key features of that strategy was the strong role of community organisations in both strategy development and delivery. This role is maintained in the current strategy, and community and voluntary services are partners with the statutory section in delivering the interventions that drive the strategy.
The rapid expert review also observed that coordination between local, regional and national levels became less effective over time. While the review team frequently observed good practice at the local level, blurred communication impeded the task of making this good practice systemic and also made roles and responsibilities less clear. There are several practical reasons for supporting the role of community-based organisations (CBO), defined in the literature as not-for-profit civil society organisations with particular governance structures and whose strategic objectives are developed in consultation with community stakeholders. CBOs providing, or coordinating, services to socially excluded groups play an important role in the delivery of health programmes. United Nations/World Health Organization documents and strategies frequently emphasise the role of CBOs in health activities and the need to strengthen intersectoral collaboration and increase participation in decision-making around health strategies.
The recent National Drugs Forum provided an opportunity for CBOs and other organisations to highlight the work that they are doing and to share knowledge with others. While these kinds of learning opportunities are important, ensuring that evidence is used effectively and that interventions are monitored will need a structured approach with a sound theoretical basis. Supporting the CBO’s use of evidence is an effective way to link research to action in health programmes. One approach to this work is to develop a strategy of community-based knowledge transfer and exchange (KTE). KTE is used as a broad umbrella term for activities which facilitate the use of research evidence in service planning and delivery. Research on this topic identifies four main barriers to the use of research in CBO work: several other factors are involved in decision-making; research evidence is not valued; a lack of available relevant evidence; and the difficulty in using research evidence. Approaches to overcoming these barriers include fostering a culture favourable to the use of evidence; providing evidence that is directly relevant to the work of these organisations; and providing support to them to evaluate the impact of strategies designed to link research to action. Reports on each of the workshops held during the National Drugs Forum are presented in this issue. These reports are a useful reminder of the quality and impact of the work that is being done and also of the particular challenges faced by non-statutory organisations in delivering services.