12/12/2016 07:21 GMT | Updated 13/12/2017 05:12 GMT

Does Evidence Make A Difference To People's Lives?

There is strong evidence that brief music therapy is an effective way to support wellbeing in palliative care patients in hospitals. We also now know that there's initial evidence that music therapy has a positive effect on mood in post-stroke patients.

These findings, among the others in our new evidence reviews, help public and private service providers improve people's lives in real and meaningful ways. We already know that the way people living with chronic or terminal illnesses are supported can make a huge difference to their quality of life and wellbeing. But, until now, we have only been able to glimpse small fragments of what works, and for whom.

When we commissioned leading universities - LSE, Brunel London, Winchester and Brighton - to systematically review all the available evidence music and singing for wellbeing benefits, we were the first to do so in the UK.

This means millions of pounds have already been spent to deliver community music and singing projects to young offenders, people with post traumatic stress disorder, older people, young adults, marginalised communities and others without a full picture of the evidence on the best way to get impact for those involved, their families and communities. This has to change.

It may seem that we intuitively know that a community choir or calming music at work has positive effects on people's wellbeing. But a mindset that good intentions equal good results is a luxury in when resources are tight and when we want to do the best we can for people.

We need to start taking evidence-informed policy and practice more seriously.

A first step would be to get better at measuring what matters for people - and make sure that policies and decisions are designed to actively improve what is most important for people and communities.

We can get a better picture of what's working across the country - learn from each other - if community organisations and other public services are better supported to evaluate what they do. And those evaluations need to do more than sit on a shelf. There are many claims that all sorts of things improve wellbeing and we have no way to compare the impact. The findings need to be brought together so learning can be shared and used to improve services.

Knowing what we do know also helps us focus on finding out more about what we don't and precious research funds can be focused better. For example, our music, singing and evidence review showed that there was initial evidence that when nursing home residents with dementia took part in individual personalised music listening sessions, they were less anxious and depressed.

'Initial evidence' essentially means there may be an effect, but we need to look at whether this will happens consistently and how. If we are able to find more evidence, and use this to create evidence-informed programmes in care homes, it could mean more ways to help older people living with dementia lead more fulfilled and dignified lives. It isn't just a theory, initiatives like A Choir in Every Care Home - which featured in our Music, Singing and Wellbeing findings - are already working to fill the evidence gap in this area, while evaluating their music projects.

Using any evidence base to inform policy and practice is the next logical step, and one we at the What Works Centre for Wellbeing are committed to making happen. We need more evidence geeks involved with running and measuring our community services, and we need to make sure we capture what is being learnt. Because, ultimately, better evidence leads to better decisions that improve and potentially save people's lives.