Also a great question. There are perhaps two ways to answer your question.
First, all research should start with some clear questions that we are trying to answer. These are often quite open, and so we’re less often setting out to “prove” something. In the case of our early years survey, we are looking at what supports/services families of children who might have a learning disability or autism are accessing in the UK currently/recently. We are also trying to understand what helps families get access to helpful services/supports, and what difficulties they that have faced getting access to services/supports in the early years.
Second, research is used in lots of ways. We always eventually publish the findings from our research in scientific journals (even if it takes several years to do this). I always tell my team members that if we have collected research data from children and families we must publish the findings. Partly this is because people have given their time usually in the hope that their contribution might help other families and children in future. Partly this is because research evidence about people with learning disability/autism is thin on the ground. Not many researchers focus on these groups, especially on learning disability. So, it is really important to get the research evidence out there.
Research published in scientific journals is crucial because it does then get seen internationally, but also contributes to guidelines about how best to support children and adults and their families. A good example is the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (or NICE) in England. Health and social care organisations in England should follow NICE guidelines. NICE guidelines are all built on the basis of the best research evidence available. As an example, check out the information for families/carers etc for the NICE guideline on mental health problems in people with learning disability:
There is even a Welsh version there.
We also when we can work with disability organisations and with family carers and people with learning disability to translate our research findings in a format that carers and others might be able to use. Here’s an example of a free booklet we worked with family carers to produce about some of our early years research:
That booklet shows what we might do with research knowledge after we have done the research. We also work with families and with disability organisations to think about what big questions need to be asked by a research study (before research is conducted). Our new early years survey is a good example of this. Mencap, Ambitious about Autism, Cerebra, and Enable in Scotland worked with us to think about what we might need to find out about the early years period. Rather than design new early interventions, we wanted to think about families’ experiences in accessing existing services and support. The idea is that once we understand this more, we can work out what can be done to make things better for families - to improve their access to services and supports. Some answers might involve some policy work by our partner organisations. We might also think about designing a short course that parents can take part in to help them get better access to services. If we end up designing such a course, we would also want to do research to see if the new course works (and that’s another research question).
So, overall, we are always using the evidence that comes from research to share it with families, to try to influence policy makers and practitioners, and to understand what we still don’t know (and what needs more research).