Evaluation of Public Health Systems and Services Research

The Program Being Evaluated

Public Health Systems and Services Research (PHSSR) is a research field based on the belief that public health can more effectively protect and promote health by generating more and better evidence about how the public health system’s organization and funding affects activities, processes, and outcomes. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has sought to promote the field by funding a succession of projects that over time evolved into a formal portfolio of PHSSR.

About the Evaluation

In 2012, RWJF commissioned this formative evaluation of PHSSR related efforts to help crystalize understanding of PHSSR activities, interrelationships, and achievements as well as to identify shortcomings and suggest helpful change going forward. Independent researchers from the Urban Institute conducted a formative evaluation from April 2012 through July 2013.

  • Researchers conducted a literature scan, document review, and key informant interviews to assess experience of PHSSR work, insights, and advice for the field.
  • A review and classification of all PHSSR projects and products was conducted
  • Researchers fielded “user” surveys of state & local public health agency leadership, participants in PBRN networks, and RWJF successful and unsuccessful PHSSR grant applicants.

This multifaceted assessment of RWJF support for PHSSR finds that after a decade, this emerging field has reached the end of the beginning. Many new undertakings fail, and this progress is noteworthy. Field building has also been rapid, as compared with its older sibling Health Services Research (HSR).

Key Findings

  • PHSSR has made substantial strides in field building.

  • Few studies as yet seem to have produced actionable information for use by local or state health departments (LHDs and SHDs).

  • Achieving sustainable funding for PHSSR has been a goal throughout but remains a major challenge.

  • Getting research findings to the attention of public health officials and their professional staffs has been a substantial problem. Local health department employee access to research reports often appears limited.

  • PHSSR has contributed to the buildup of public health research and number of public health researchers, but, thus far, to only is a small extent.