Moving employment research into practice: Knowledge and application of evidence-based practices by state vocational rehabilitation agency staff

Authors: Grossi, T., & Thomas, F.
Year Published 2013
Publication Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation
Volume 39
Number 1
Pages 75-81
Publisher IOS Press

The need for evidence-based research is greater than ever in order to promote quality placements, as vocational rehabilitation (VR) counselors are facing extremely large caseloads. Vocational rehabilitation counselors are facing three main difficulties in order to successfully close cases. The first difficulty is the reluctance of business to hire during a bad economy, and there is a limited need for workers. The second difficulty is the number and complexity of people that are on caseloads. There are a large number of individuals and the number is growing. The third difficulty faced by vocational rehabilitation counselors is that there is no easy solution to these challenges. The solutions could be found in evidence-based research, but the vocational rehabilitation counselors may not have easy access to them. There is much more knowledge on how to assist with employment and provide appropriate supports, however, it takes time to translate the knowledge in a way that can be used by counselors. Knowledge translation (KT) aims to ensure that information and understanding gained through research ultimately betters the lives of the individuals with disabilities. Integrated KT includes intended users of the research findings in the actual research to help with the questions, message format, and use of strategies. Collaboration is a key component of integrated KT.


The purpose of this study was to determine barriers and facilitators to the use of evidence. This study looks at the use of evidence by professional staff at state vocational rehabilitation agencies.


The study takes place at three state vocational rehabilitation departments. The three states are in different regions of the country, with participants from the East, South, and Southwest.


The sample was comprised of 265 females, 85 males, and 14 participants who chose not to identify gender. 29% of participants were from the East, 11.3% were from the South, and 59.7% were from the Southwest. The sample consisted of 87.3% participants with a Master‚ degree. 91.1% of graduates had a minimum of one graduate degree, while 7.9% held a Bachelor‚ degree. There were 2.3% of participants with high school diploma or post-secondary education. 11.57 years was the mean number of years in vocational rehabilitation. Vocational counselors made up the majority of participants with 83.5% of the sample. Vocational rehabilitation technicians, unit supervisors, area supervisors, area directors, program administration staff vocational rehabilitation consultants, vocational rehabilitation evaluators, vocational rehabilitation specialists, support staff, and consumer case coordinators comprised the rest of the study sample.

Data Collection

Making Research Work for VR Agencies, a questionnaire created for this survey study, was developed based on existing literature on knowledge translation. The questionnaire is comprised of three open-ended questions, in addition to 72 Likert type response items, and demographics. The open ended questions focused on the term evidence-based practice whose opinion the participant valued in terms of decision making when helping individuals with disabilities, and when evidence-based practice is helpful in their job. The Likert type items focused on: organizational supports for using evidence-based practices, how skilled the individual felt with using research when working, the value of evidence-based practices, organizational interactions that helped on the job, training activities, text information sources that assisted on the job, and information from human sources. Participants at the three state vocational rehabilitation agencies were encouraged to participate in the study via email. Confidentiality was ensured. $10 gift cards were offered to the first 20 participants to respond after the first email invitation in the Southwest state. The first 15 people to respond to the two follow-up emails in the Southwestern state also received $10 gift cards. Due to state ethics regulations or agency preferences this incentive was not used in the other two states.


The responses from the open-ended questions were coded by staff at Virginia Commonwealth University. The first question had participants define evidence-based practices. The response of 45.6% of participants was categorized as research-based. The rest of the responses were categorized as documented evidence with 18.3%, proven effective with 15.2%, and practice or experience with 8.5%. The sample responded that research for practice was valued with 84.2% of participants reporting this. Most of the participants reported that they did understand how to read and apply research literature to their job, with 76.3% participants responding this. Over half of the sample reported the ability to evaluate the quality of research, the ability to understand research findings, and that when it comes to using research for their job they consider themselves skilled. Participants indicated that the current research was applicable to their consumers, with 52.9% of respondents indicating this. Independently searching for research literature was reported by 68.2% of participants and 53.8% of participants reported practicing the latest research. 40.5% of participants reported that academic research articles do not clearly explain how evidence-based practices should be implemented. The third question focused on how the state agency valued and encouraged the use of evidence-based practices to serve clients. Only 48.2% of participants reported that evidence-based practices were valued by their agency. 38% of participants reported that their supervisor expected evidence-based practices for delivering services and 36.1% reported evidence-based practices were expected evidence-based practices in decision making. Participants reported professional collaboration and the internet (not social media) as the two most used information sources.


The data found that while vocational rehabilitation staff were open to using new strategies based on research, the staff face challenges in translating the research practices into products and strategies. Further research is needed to develop knowledge translation strategies to be used by vocational rehabilitation strategies.

NIDILRR Funded Yes
Research Design Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs)
Peer Reviewed Yes