Background: Third sector organisations (TSOs) are a well-established component of health care provision in the UK's NHS and other health systems, but little is known about how they use research and other forms of knowledge in their work. There is an emerging body of evidence exploring these issues but there is no review of this literature. This scoping review summarises what is known about how health and social care TSOs use research and other forms of knowledge in their work.
Methods: A systematic search of electronic databases was carried out with initial exploratory searching of knowledge mobilisation websites, contacting authors, and hand searching of journals. The literature was narratively summarised to describe how TSOs use knowledge in decision making.
Results: Ten qualitative and mixed methods studies were retrieved. They show that TSOs wish to be "evidence-informed" in their decision making, and organisational context influences the kinds of research and knowledge they prefer, as well as how they use it. Barriers to research use include time, staff skill, resources and the acontextual nature of some academic research. Appropriate approaches to knowledge mobilisation may include using research intermediaries, involving TSOs in research, and better description of interventions and contexts in academic publications to aid applying it in the multi-disciplinary contexts of TSOs. TSOs identified specific benefits of using research, such as confidence that services were good quality, ability to negotiate with stakeholders and funders, and saving time and resources through implementing interventions shown to be effective. The small number of included studies means the findings need further confirmation through primary research.
Conclusions: As the contribution of health and social care TSOs to service delivery is growing, the need to understand how they mobilise research and other forms of knowledge will continue. The research community could 1) develop relationships with TSOs to support the design and development of research projects, 2) use a range of methods to evaluate interventions to facilitate TSOs applying them to their organisational contexts and 3) improve our understanding of how TSOs use knowledge, through the use of complementary research methods, such as a realist review or ethnography.