This is the third in a series of Cochrane Blog posts about prioritization work by Cochrane Review Groups. You can read an overview of the project in the first post, and a story from the Tobacco Addiction Group in the second post.
The Cochrane Consumers and Communication Review Group (CCRG) had a few goals in mind when they embarked on a recent prioritization exercise. They wanted to make sure their portfolio of reviews reflects the important questions in their field; to increase their capacity to meet stakeholder needs; and to foster stronger engagement with consumers, consumer groups and health and policy services and groups in this area.
They approached the task in three stages, beginning with the formation of a steering group, followed by an international online survey and finally a workshop. The group had hoped to have the exercise completed within a year, but in the end it took closer to 18 months. This included a 2-3 month preparatory period, where they talked with funders in Australia and sought advice from the Cochrane Priority Setting Methods Group (CPSMG).
Project steering group
The steering group proved to be vital to the success of the project. It was made up of consumer representatives, funders, representatives from government health departments/bodies, health service managers, health professionals, and researchers with previous experience of prioritization activities. The steering group helped determine how broad the range of topics should be and gave shape and direction to the project as it progressed. With their extensive networks, they were invaluable with promotion and recruitment, and helped shaped the dissemination activities to ensure greatest relevance and use to key stakeholder groups. They also identified opportunities for intersection with our work and current policy activities in Australia.
Online survey to generate ideas
An international online survey generated responses from 151 participants (75% Australian; 18 to 80 years; 30% consumers/carers, 50% health professionals) and identified 191 priority topics which were organised into 21 broad research priorities by the CCRG. A significant challenge was the lack of time between the online survey and the workshop. This meant that in the analysis and organization phase the group had to make some pragmatic decisions, but overall they were confident that the broad categories were representative of the needs and concerns they heard expressed in the survey.
Priority setting workshop
The workshop was attended by 28 people, 50% consumers or carers and 50% clinicians, researchers, policy makers, and health services managers. After adding one additional research priority, the broad list of 22 priorities was further narrowed down to the most important 12 topics using a modified version of the James Lind Alliance approach. This involved group discussion, a voting round, and then small group work to explore the top 12 research priorities in depth.
Selecting the top five Cochrane Reviews
After the workshop, the CCRG mapped the top 12 research priorities against their reviews, protocols, and title proposals to identify priority topics or gaps in their portfolio. Two existing reviews and three reviews in title proposal stage were selected, and were added to the Cochrane Priority Review List immediately. Work on these reviews is underway and another five titles will be commissioned in a second round of reviews (after 2016).
The Group’s reflections
This prioritization approach was demanding and resource-intensive at times, but the Group felt strongly that such an investment was necessary to explore the issues that mattered to stakeholders. Having asked people to get involved, they were keenly aware of their responsibility to deliver a workshop that honoured the commitment and interest shown by participants. They managed to secure a couple of small grants which helped to fund a part-time research assistant and cover workshop attendance costs for some consumer/carer participants. The exercise required significant commitment from the group’s Research Fellow, Anneliese Synnot, over the course of a year. As a result of this commitment and the ongoing nature of the work, Anneliese will continue to work on CCRG prioritisation as part of her PhD.
One of the most pleasing parts for the Group was the fact that participants were enthusiastic and committed. They were not only willing to invest their time throughout multiple stages of the project, but keen to know the outcomes of the day and stay involved in future prioritization activities. This strengthening of ties to their stakeholders was an important outcome for the CCRG, because it lays the ground work for ongoing engagement.
The exercise hasn’t stopped with a list of prioritized reviews. The CCRG were keen to stress the importance of taking ownership of these priority reviews as a whole – not just producing them, but actively disseminating and advocating for more research where it’s clear there isn’t enough. For the CCRG, this exercise has set off a whole new thread of work to ensure that the reviews are done in a way that means they are meaningful and useful, and that they reach the people who need them. All priority teams are actively involving stakeholders as part of their review team, or as an advisory group.
To view the final report for this project visit the CCRG’s priority setting project page.
For any questions or comments about this blog series or if you’d like to tell us about Cochrane group prioritisation work please contact Ruth Foxlee at the Cochrane Editorial Unit – firstname.lastname@example.org
Ruth Foxlee - Information Specialist, Cochrane Editorial Unit
Lydia Wilson – Intern, Cochrane Editorial Unit