Complaints Resolution Procedure

An official Cochrane Policy, dated 22 October 2019

Cochrane’s members and supporters are researchers, health professionals, patients, carers, and people who care about improving health outcomes for everyone, everywhere. Our global independent network gathers and summarizes the best evidence from research to help people make informed choices about health care. 

We aim to treat all our stakeholders fairly and equitably. We aim to support all Cochrane members and supporters as they contribute to the organization’s mission and activities. 

Being a Cochrane member or supporter and undertaking Cochrane work is something of which to be proud. But the benefits of Cochrane membership and association come with responsibilities. We have a policy on Working Better Together: Principles of Collaboration which set out the responsibilities, conduct and behaviour expected of Cochrane members and supporters.

All Cochrane activity occurs within an organizational accountability structure regardless of whether people are volunteers or employed by Cochrane. Some of the accountability and line management relationships are clear, others are less so. A companion document to this one - Cochrane’s Organizational Accountabilities - sets out the structure of accountability. Cochrane members and supporters have a responsibility to work within this structure in their dealings with each other, including complaints. 

Fundamental to this Complaints Resolution Procedure is the principle that in the first instance complaints should be dealt with directly between the parties involved, and at the most local level possible thereafter. This recognizes that the earlier and more directly a complaint is raised, the greater the chance of successfully resolving it. 

When direct resolution is not appropriate or possible, the complaint should be directed to the next level – a manager or person acting in a supervisory or oversight role in relation to the person or Cochrane Group complained about. Where resolution is not achieved or possible, the complaint can be sent to Cochrane where it will be handled in accordance with this Procedure. It must relate to a Cochrane activity.

This Procedure guides and supports those involved with such complaints by providing transparent and consistent principles and processes for resolving alleged breaches of Cochrane’s Principles of Collaboration in a timely and proportionate way with a focus on resolution.

It is also important to note that nothing in this Procedure limits the rights and obligations of the Cochrane’s Trustees (the Governing Board) to take whatever action is required in the best interests of the Cochrane Charity, and to take any necessary professional advice to allow them to do so. 

Further, notwithstanding the Procedure’s focus on local resolution, where there are complaints raising matters of such seriousness that a formal investigation is required, Cochrane may engage external experts with the appropriate training and skills to investigate and report back with recommendations for action.

This Procedure is intended for use by:

  • Anyone making a complaint about the conduct or behaviour of a Cochrane member or supporter, or a group of members or supporters, who has been unable to resolve the matter directly with the member(s) or supporter(s) and/or locally. 
  • Cochrane members or supporters who have received a complaint about someone they manage, supervise or oversee in relation to Cochrane activities.


This Procedure covers complaints about:

  • The standard of service provided by, or conduct/behaviour of, Cochrane members or supporters in their Cochrane activities;
  • Any action, or lack of action, by Cochrane members or supporters in their Cochrane activities.

It does not cover:

  • Complaints that are more appropriately addressed by another process (e.g. employer processes, legal processes, and editorial matters) or an external agency such as the Police. This includes:
    • Comments - including disagreements - on the content of a Cochrane Review or Protocol, which are dealt with via the Comments Section of Cochrane Reviews in The Cochrane Library.
    • Referrals to the COI Panel on potential contraventions of Cochrane’s Conflict of Interest policies related to the funding of Cochrane Reviews.
    • Complaints made about, or by, staff of Cochrane’s Central Executive Team (who are also Cochrane Members as a benefit of their employment), which are dealt with according to the Central Executive Team’s employment procedures1.
  • Complaints about Cochrane members or supporters which do not relate to their Cochrane activities (e.g. non-Cochrane work undertaken as part of their normal employment).
  • Matters that have already been through the Complaints Resolution Procedure set out in this document.
  • Anonymous complaints.
  • Complaints about access to information where procedures and remedies are set out in legislation, e.g. EU General Data Protection Regulation.
  • Complaints alleging behaviour of a criminal or unlawful nature.

Cochrane cannot overrule the complaints processes of the employing institutions or professional associations of any of our members or supporters. However, as a condition of membership or supporter status, everyone has a responsibility to comply with this procedure and to treat everyone with whom they interact in Cochrane with dignity and respect.

1 These complaints should be sent to the person's line manager or the Chief Executive Officer. The exceptions are complaints about the behaviour of the Chief Executive Officer or Editor in Chief, which should be sent to the Governing Board Co Chairs.

The remainder of this Procedure is set out as follows:

  1. Definitions
  2. Principles
  3. Processes

1. Definitions

Complaint An expression of dissatisfaction or concern.
Cochrane member A member of Cochrane as defined by the Membership Terms & Conditions.
Cochrane supporter Anyone who has signed up for a Cochrane Account.

The parties involved in a complaint:

Complainant The person or group of people making a complaint.
Respondent The person or group of people who is the subject of the complaint.
Complaint manager The person who will have responsibility for handling the complaint and ensuring it is addressed - this will be a manager, supervisor or the next most senior person in the organizational hierarchy. In other words, the person the respondent is accountable to for Cochrane matters. See the Organizational Accountabilities framework for more information.

2. Principles

This Complaints Resolution Procedure is based on the following principles:

The right to make a complaint  Everyone has the right to make a complaint.
Local resolution The person or group of people who is the subject of the complaint.
Complaint manager Complaints should be resolved as directly and locally as possible in the first instance. Even where this has not been possible or is not appropriate, and the complaint comes to Cochrane, it will be handled at the next appropriate management or supervisory level, guided by Cochrane’s accountability structure (see Organizational Accountabilities) and the principles and processes set out here. In many cases, it should be possible to sort out the problem straight away, sometimes through a well-facilitated meeting between the people involved. In practice, when a complaint is sent to Cochrane and escalated to a manager or supervisor it is because it cannot be resolved directly.
Co-operation and respect

Everyone involved in the complaint must comply with this complaints procedure, provide relevant information and respect confidentiality as appropriate. Cultural differences may play a factor in expectations around a complaint. While these will be acknowledged and respected where it is appropriate to do so, they cannot be relied upon to excuse unacceptable behaviour. The focus must be on the issue of complaint and seeking to resolve it in a proportionate and reasonable way.

If a complainant or respondent do not co-operate, and the person handling the complaint has made reasonable attempts2 to engage them, the complaint will proceed in accordance with the process set out in this document. Decisions, including whether to proceed and findings on the complaint, will be made on the information provided and any other relevant information that can be obtained.

'Natural Justice' - the duty to act fairly
  • Complaints must be fully and clearly described by the Complainant and submitted in writing as a ‘formal’ complaint, not an unclear or general statement of dissatisfaction;
  • The Respondent will be informed of all the allegations against him/her and told who the Complainant is, unless the Complainant has requested confidentiality.
  • If a Complainant requests confidentiality their identity must be protected. They should be informed that this may impact on the ability to resolve the complaint. 
  • The Respondent must have a full opportunity to respond to the allegations against him/her;
  • All parties to the complaint have the right to be heard and to receive regular updates on the progress of the process;
  • All relevant submissions and evidence must be considered;
  • The decision-making by the relevant person handling the complaint must be impartial, fair, timely and supported by reasons which are explained to the parties.
  • All parties to a complaint will have the opportunity to respond to any adverse findings or critical comment prior to the decision being made. Their response will be considered.
  • All parties to the complaint can seek a review of the decision. However, they must give reasons for seeking a review of the decision other than just being unhappy with the outcome.
The right to support At any point in the complaints process, all parties have the right to involve an advocate/support person, who must adhere to the principles and procedure set out in this document. Where there is to be a meeting, attendees should be mutually agreed as such meetings are voluntary.

It is important that complaints are made as soon as possible after the event. Usually this means within six months of the event, or within six months of the person realizing they have a reason for complaint, as long as that is not more than 12 months after the event itself.

There should be no undue delays once a complaint has been made, as set out in Section 3, Processes.

Where a decision is subsequently challenged, requests for its review must be received in writing no later than one month after the decision was received by the parties to the complaint.

Confidentiality The complaint will remain confidential to the parties involved within the constraints of the need to fully investigate the matter. Information about the complaint will be shared with other parties on a ‘need to know basis’ only.
'Whistleblower' Protection As noted earlier, the Complainant has the right to request their identity is not disclosed to the Respondent. It should be acknowledged that the right to such protection may limit the ability to investigate the complaint, as it will require not identifying the Complainant. For example, it may limit the amount of information the Respondent can provide. A separate Whistleblowing Policy is in development.

2 Including giving written notice that unless there is a response/information provided by a deadline the complaint will proceed on the basis of available information.


3. Processes

Where possible, a complaint should be resolved informally and directly between the Complainant and Respondent. Where parties have not already tried to resolve the matter directly between themselves or at the local level involving the relevant supervisor or manager, they will be encouraged to try this approach first.

If this is not possible, or the outcome is unsatisfactory for either party, a complaint can be made to Cochrane. Occasionally the issue and/or the circumstances of a complaint may be such that direct resolution between the parties is not appropriate and the matter should come straight to Cochrane.

A complaint will be deemed to have commenced once it is submitted in writing to Cochrane, including the information requested in part 1 of the process outlined below.

3.1. Where to submit a complaint:

Complaints should be submitted in writing to:

Cochrane Complaints
They can be emailed to:

Complaints that can be dealt with under this procedure will be acknowledged within five working days, assessed and then sent to the supervisor or manager (or closest equivalent) of the Respondent3,  for resolution. If that person has already been involved in the complaint, consideration will be given as to whether it should be directed to the next most senior person.

Where a complaint needs to be dealt with under another process it will be redirected, and the Complainant will be informed of this. If it is not a matter Cochrane can deal with (including when it should have been raised directly with the Respondent or is more appropriately dealt with elsewhere), the Complainant will be informed.

For all complaints received and addressed according to this procedure, a confidential central repository of the documentation pertaining to each complaint, its handling and its outcome, will be maintained. This will allow for consistency in managing complaints and their handling over time.

3 Although there are some direct line management relationships in Cochrane (e.g. Managing Editor to Co-ordinating Editor), in most cases this will be less clear because Cochrane does not directly employ its members or supporters. Each case will be considered individually to identify the most appropriate person to handle the complaint. This is often likely to be a senior leader in a Cochrane Group (e.g. Co-ordinating Editor, Centre Director, Methods Co-ordinator, or Fields Co-ordinator). See Cochrane’s Organizational Accountablities framework for more information.


The Complainant submits a written complaint to the address named above, providing sufficient detail that sets out:

  1. the specific complaint, and the grounds for it;
  2. a statement indicating whether they have already tried to resolve the issue with the Respondent. If so, what the outcome was; if not , why not; and
  3. their expectations for resolving the complaint.
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2 INITIAL ASSESSMENT The Complainant’s submission is assessed by designated staff in the Central Executive Team. If the complaint is within the scope of this procedure (e.g. it is about an alleged breach of the Principles of Collaboration) its receipt will be acknowledged and it will be referred to the Respondent(s)’ most immediate supervisor/manager (or closest equivalent) for handling. If the complaint is about something that can be dealt with through another Cochrane process it will be redirected and the Complainant informed. If the complaint is not relevant to Cochrane activities or should be redirected externally, it will be closed, and the Complainant notified. Acknowledged within five working days of receipt of the complaint     
Assessed and referred or closed within 10 working days of receipt Arrow pointing to the right Complaint may be closed
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The person handling the complaint may request more information from the Complainant before contacting the Respondent. Including asking what their expected outcome is and establishing their willingness or otherwise to engage with the Respondent in the interests of resolving the issue. This should be undertaken as soon as possible.

The manager will contact the Respondent, setting out the allegations against them and seeking a response including their views on the expected outcome and their willingness to engage with the Complainant in the interests of resolving the issue. 

Unless confidentiality has been requested by the Complainant, the Respondent will be made aware of the Complainant’s identity. 
If confidentiality has been requested, care must be taken not to share any identifying information with the Respondent and it should be acknowledged this may limit the ability to fully respond.

As noted earlier if either party does not engage in this process it is open to the manager to proceed on the basis of the information provided and any other relevant information available to them. They should inform the parties this is the case and ensure reasonable attempts have been made to engage people. 

Within 10 working days of Initial Assessment and referral    
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4 RESPONDENT’S RESPONSE The Respondent should provide a written response to the allegations against them. Within 10 working days of contacting the Respondent    
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5 RESOLUTION MEETING (Optional) If all parties are comfortable with the parameters and expected outcomes, a meeting/teleconference may be scheduled with the aim of discussing and resolving the complaint. This should only be undertaken where the expectation is that discussion between the Complainant and Respondent (also attended by the person handling the complaint) will be helpful and not harm any party. Both parties are able to involve a support person but as such meetings are voluntary, attendees must be agreed to by all. Within 10 working days of the respondent’s Response    
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Either following the Resolution Meeting or the Respondent’s Response, the person handling the complaint will provide the first draft of a written decision on the complaint.

This draft and any proposed findings and follow-up action should be made available to the Complainant and Respondent for them to provide feedback and offer additional relevant information prior to finalising.

If the complaint has proceeded without either party’s co-operation they should still be given an opportunity to respond to any draft decision prior to finalisation. 

Within 20 working days of Respondent’s Response /or a meeting    
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7 FINAL WRITTEN DECISION  The Final Written Decision will be made available to the Complainant and Respondent. Within 10 working days of Draft Decision Arrow pointing to the right Complaint closed

* Timelines may be extended with the agreement of all parties for reasons including annual leave or other significant reasons.

3.3 The right to seek review of the decision

If either the Complainant or the Respondent is not satisfied with the Final Written Decision, they have one opportunity to seek an internal review. In line with the accountability framework and the principle of local resolution and appropriate escalation, this review should be undertaken by the next most senior person to the person who managed the complaint (see Organizational Accountabilities). 

To seek a review the complainant or respondent should provide a written description of why they are dissatisfied with the decision, within one month of receiving the final decision. They must give reasons why they are challenging the decision. This written document (review request) should be sent to the email address for complaints clearly marked as a request for review. It will be treated as private and confidential, but will be shared with the other parties to the original complaint (subject to any confidentiality requests made earlier).

As noted above, the decision on the complaint will be reviewed by the next most senior person to the one who managed the complaint – for example their manager or supervisor for the Cochrane activity. In dealing with the review, assistance and advice may be sought from the Chief Executive Officer and/or Editor in Chief depending on the issue (and they may involve an independent mediator or legal advisor, as appropriate). 

The person reviewing the decision will study the documentation relating to the initial complaint and make any additional enquiries they require. A draft of their findings (a ‘Review Decision’) will be made available to the Complainant and Respondent to provide feedback and offer additional relevant information prior to finalizing.

The reviewer’s decision will be communicated to the Complainant and Respondent as soon as possible, and not more than three months after receipt of the request for the review. 

The reviewer’s decision is final.

3.4 Possible outcomes

The focus of this process must be on reaching an outcome that is achievable and proportionate to the issue involved. Possible outcomes may include an explanation of the reasons for an action or conduct complained about; or an acknowledgement or finding that an action or conduct did or did not meet the expectations outlined in the Principles of Collaboration. 

Where appropriate, an apology and/or corrective actions may be offered or requested. Where an appropriate outcome cannot be achieved, or the information does not support the complaint, it is open to the person handling the complaint to finalize it on that basis. 

Where it is found that there has been a serious departure from the behaviour or conduct expected under the Principles of Collaboration and a suitable resolution cannot be achieved (for instance there is a refusal to acknowledge and apologize for the behaviour and take steps to ensure it does not recur) the person handling the complaint should escalate the matter to their manager/ supervisor or the next most senior person in relation to the Cochrane activity subject to the complaint, for discussion with Cochrane’s Chief Executive Officer or a delegated senior member of the Central Executive Team regarding what action to take. 

The most serious consequence of a complaint is potentially the recommendation that a Respondent’s Cochrane membership or supporter status be terminated. However, such recommendations are expected to be rare and must be discussed with Cochrane’s Chief Executive Officer or a delegated senior staff member.

Any final decisions involving membership will be made by the full Governing Board, following recommendations being made to, and considered by, its Complaints Resolution Committee.

Respondents who have multiple complaints against them may be the subject of recommendations to and action by the Governing Board.

3.5. Incident Reporting to the Charities Commission 

The UK Charity Commission, to which Cochrane reports, requires charities to report serious incidents. They define a serious incident as an adverse event, whether actual or alleged, which results in or risks significant:

  • harm to the charity’s beneficiaries, staff, volunteers or others who come into contact with the charity through its work 
  • loss of the charity’s money or assets
  • damage to the charity’s property
  • harm to the charity’s work or reputation

If a Complaint Manager is concerned that the complaint they are managing qualifies as a ‘serious incident’, they should inform Cochrane’s Central Executive Team at The Governing Board shall take decisions on reporting serious incidents to the Charity Commission and shall be responsible for doing so.