An update on the CRG Structure and Function reforms and the completion of Cochrane’s Sustainability Review

Blog update

Dear Colleagues,

Cochrane’s Editor in Chief, David Tovey, wrote to you last on 20 April following a highly successful meeting of the Co-ordinating Editors (Co-Eds) Board and consultations with Managing Editors, Information Specialists, and the Methods community in Geneva. Participants at this meeting discussed proposed Cochrane Review Group (CRG) Structure & Function reforms and the ongoing sustainability review of CRGs. As you may know, the related paper and its recommendations, presented by the Structure and Function Project Team (chaired by David and including myself and Co-Eds Nicky Cullum, Jonathan Craig, and Martin Burton), were subsequently accepted by the Cochrane Governing Board in full.

Since then, the Project Team and the CEU have been working on the individual CRG sustainability reviews; communicating their recommendations to the most affected Groups; engaging with Groups in the planning of new CRG Networks, and developing an implementation strategy for them.

We’re pleased to inform you that we are nearing completion of the sustainability reviews for all of Cochrane’s 51 CRGs, focusing on those Groups with the most pressing issues, and want to provide you with a fuller update for the next stage of our Structure and Function changes.

The sustainability review reports were created based on standardized criteria and information from Archie, CEU screening and copy-editing reports, and an independent assessment from the Editor in Chief of each Group’s performance over the last five years. The reports contain critically important information on all aspects of review production. Specifically, each CRG was evaluated based on its productivity, quality of output measured against standard criteria, review timeliness and impact within local and global health settings, leadership, contribution to Cochrane, and financial sustainability.

Based on these assessments, we have identified 13 CRGs which are at the highest risk of producing reviews that fail to meet the agreed standards, and an additional three CRGs currently most vulnerable in terms of resources and future sustainability.

The Project Team has made specific recommendations for each of the 13 CRGs at highest risk of producing reviews that fail to meet the agreed standards. We are now in the process of implementing these recommendations, which in general terms include working closely with other CRGs who may provide oversight and mentorship, reducing CRG  scope, prioritization of relevant reviews, and mandatory screening of reviews prior to final editorial approval. In addition, we are closely monitoring and providing support to the three CRGs considered vulnerable in terms of their resources.

The results from this sustainability review will also inform a full Implementation Plan entitled ‘The Structure and Function of Cochrane Review Groups: implementation of Networks and Editorial Board’, which will be completed by the Project Team by mid-August, shared with the Cochrane community, and presented for approval to Cochrane’s Governing Board in Cape Town in September 2017.

Following the extensive analysis, consultation, and debate on CRG reforms that have taken place in recent years, and with a clear steer from the Governing Board, this Implementation Plan will summarize the changes we will be making to ensure Cochrane addresses the challenges it faces in relation to the production of a comprehensive set of timely, high-quality reviews, relevant to our stakeholders. These challenges have been described in previous documents, and include:

  • inconsistent quality of reviews submitted for publication;
  • fragmented and inconsistent approaches across the CRG community to managing scope, editorial processes; and prioritization;
  • excessive times to protocol and review publication;
  • delayed and fragmented approaches to implementation of methodological and technological innovation;
  • challenge of managing 51 CRGs to ensure consistent adherence to standards and processes.

The Plan includes the establishment of eight CRG Networks. It will set out structure and function changes that seek to promote stronger editorial processes, the improved use of resources, more effective ways of prioritizing review topics and identification of evidence gaps, as well as greater communication between Groups and sharing of resources. Each Network will be led by a newly-appointed Senior Editor who will report to Cochrane’s new Editorial Board. These eight Networks will cover the thematic areas of:

  • Acute/Emergency Care
  • Neurology/Mental Health
  • Cancer
  • Circulation and Breathing
  • Two networks covering Long-term Conditions
  • Public Health
  • Women, Children, and Family

We want to facilitate the creation of vibrant and robust Networks of sustainable, nimble, and connected CRGs. These CRGs will be able to actively prioritize the reviews that are most important to stakeholders, and ensure the efficiency of their editorial processes and the consistent quality of their outputs. We also want to foster systems that can reliably innovate, and scale up changes, advocate for learning programmes that meet the needs of CRGs more effectively, and work with others to ensure maximum impact for our reviews.

The Plan will outline the relevant functions and activities of all of the Networks; the CRGs involved; their full scope, prioritization, support and training; and knowledge translation engagement. However, as a brief overview, here are the principal areas of the proposed implementation phase:

  • The allocation of CRGs to one of the eight Networks based on full scope, the WHO global burden of disease, shared methodological issues, geographical proximity, and feedback received during the 2017 Co-Eds Board meeting discussions in Geneva.
  • The elucidation of the key functions of the CRG Network, and the core attributes, responsibilities, and accountabilities of the new roles of Senior Editor, Network Associate Editors, and of the CEU management team.
  • Clarification of the mechanisms of governance and accountability for CRGs, including the establishment of a Memorandum of Understanding with each Co-ordinating Editor, and a regular five-year accreditation process considering the role of leadership, strategic planning, editorial teams, and financial sustainability.
  • Definition of the responsibilities of the Editorial Board and the Methods Support Unit, based on decisions taken by the Cochrane Governing Board in Cape Town in September.

We hope you will find this information useful and timely. ‘The Structure and Function of Cochrane Review Groups: implementation of Networks and Editorial Board’ document will be finalized in the next few weeks and we will share this with you the week beginning Monday 14 August, ahead of its presentation for approval to Cochrane’s Governing Board in Cape Town in September 2017. In addition, we will provide regular communication updates through our monthly Reviews and Methods Digest.

We recognize that there may be many questions about what this means for you and the future functionality of CRGs. Some of these questions may not have definitive answers until after Cochrane’s Governing Board has met in Cape Town. However, in the meantime we have established an email address where you can submit questions, and one of the Project Team will respond to your enquiry:

We look forward to the next few months of work as we engage more closely with you and other members of the CRG community to move these changes forward together.

With our best wishes,

Karla Soares-Weiser, Acting Editor in Chief

Martin Burton, Co-ordinating Editor, ENT Group

Jonathan Craig, Co-ordinating Editor, Kidney & Transplant Group

Nicky Cullum, Co-ordinating Editor, Wounds Group

Mark Wilson, CEO

July 10, 2017

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