Cochrane Methods Report 2021

Posted on 1 November 2021 by Ella Flemyng (Methods Implementation Manager)

Welcome to the fifth annual Cochrane Methods report compiled by the Methods Team in the Central Executive Team to provide an overview of the key methodological activities in Cochrane over the past year. The report highlights the importance of our methods community, particularly Cochrane Methods Groups and their members, in continuing to improve the relevance, quality and timeliness of Cochrane Reviews. Major developments this year have included… 

A focus on supporting methods in public health intervention reviews

During Cochrane’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic we identified a number of challenges faced by authors and editors when producing Cochrane Reviews of interventions in public health.  Working with the Public Health and Health Systems Network and Methods Executive, and led by Methods Groups and/or Review Groups, we launched five methods projects that aim to create a tool or resource to address some of the most common challenges

  1. Preferred and accepted risk of bias tools for assessing bias in non-randomised studies of interventions (led by Michele Hilton Boon, Public Health Review Group)
  2. A checklist and guide for defining the questions to be addressed in the synthesis of public health intervention reviews (led by Sue Brennan, Cochrane Australia, and Joanne McKenzie, Statistics Methods Group)
  3. Supporting descriptions and decisions regarding study design eligibility in Cochrane intervention reviews: guidance development project (led by Nicola Lindson and Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, Tobacco Addiction Review Group)
  4. Practical conduct and reporting guidance for assessing risk of bias in non-randomised studies of interventions and/or ROBINS-I (led by Kerry Dwan and Tess Moore, Cochrane’s Editorial and Methods Department)
  5. Development of materials to facilitate implementation of methods for presentation and statistical synthesis when data are not amenable to meta-analysis (led by Sue Brennan, Cochrane Australia, and Joanne McKenzie, Statistics Methods Group)

Along with the leads, each project has an Advisory Group with representatives from a variety of Cochrane groups to inform development. Outputs of the projects are due in early 2022.

Additional activities to support public health intervention reviews are detailed in the relevant sections below. 

Methods Support Unit establishes its position supporting Cochrane Review Groups

The Methods Support Unit (MSU) launched in October 2019 and includes two part-time Statistical Editors, and a fulltime Systematic Review Methodological Editor. In the past year, we’ve responded to over 400 requests for support or peer review of protocols, full reviews and updates. This support ranges from specific advice and comment to individual review authors and Cochrane Review Groups (CRGs) through to development of materials that can be shared widely through the Cochrane community. Our support has predominantly been for complex methods including network meta-analysis, non-randomised studies, Risk of Bias 2, synthesis without meta-analysis and for COVID rapid-review protocols and full reviews. We’ve delivered editorial training on Risk of Bias 2  and synthesis without meta-analysis to Cochrane Networks and CRGs, created checklists for including ROBINS-I (Risk Of Bias In Non-randomised Studies - of Interventions) in protocols and reviews and created a discussion space for methods-related queries from Cochrane editors and authors through monthly web clinics. This includes a special web clinic in November 2021 on including different study designs and evidence, as well as presentations at the Editor in Chief Join the Conversation,  the Cochrane UK and Cochrane Ireland 2021 Symposium and training on network meta-analysis for Cochrane UK.

Other priority methods activities in Cochrane 

Achievements and contributions from the Methods Groups

Cochrane greatly appreciates the expertise and contributions of the Cochrane Methods Groups and we’ll be showcasing their achievement from the past year. A full overview of the outputs in methods research and development, best practice and guidance, methods implementation, as well as publications and other achievements from each of our 17 Methods Groups can be found via the links in the box below. We’ll also be sharing the annual highlight from each Methods Group in the days to come.  You can access all this by exploring the links in the box below.

Methods research and development

Best practice and methods guidance

Methods Groups' Spotlight On Reports

Methods implementation

Publications and other key achievements

Cochrane Handbooks and methods guidance

The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions and Methodological Expectations for Cochrane Intervention Reviews (MECIR) were updated to version 6.2 in February 2021 with changes that relate to Cochrane’s new conflict of interest policy and guidance on searching in Chapter 4 and its accompanying Technical Supplement. MECIR has also been translated into Spanish, Japanese and Russian.

The Cochrane Handbook for Diagnostic Test Accuracy Reviews (version 2) continues to develop under the leadership of the editors and the first five chapters are now available in draft form for Cochrane members. 

A Cochrane Handbook for Qualitative Evidence Synthesis is also now in development. More details in 2022.

Methods community

The 2021 Methods Symposium was dedicated to evidence synthesis in public health and complex interventions, with session 1 on what we have learnt (chaired by Joanne McKenzie and Carl Moons) and session 2 on challenges and opportunities (chaired by Jane Noyes and Sarah Nevitt). With speakers from across Methods Groups and Review Groups, we were joined by over 400 attendees to hear talks on the importance of preparing for evidence synthesis, using non-randomised studies and other types of evidence, describing complex interventions, and communicating evidence end users. Full details and recordings are available here

Work to develop the links between Methods Groups and Review Groups continued in 2021, including developing the Methods Network, launching a dedicated newsletter for everyone to stay up to date on methods activities, supporting the development of Cochrane’s TaskExchange platform to better meet the needs of the methods communities and Review Groups, informing the development of processes for Cochrane’s new editorial management system (Editorial Manager), along with other activities.

We say goodbye and thanks to the following:

Miranda Langendam stepped down from the Cochrane Council and the associated position on the Cochrane Methods Executive
Margaret Cargo and Karin Hannes, Convenors, Qualitative and Implementation Methods Group
Froeks Kamminga, Methods Liaison Officer (Editorial and Methods Department)
Kayleigh Kew, Senior Editor for Methods (Editorial and Methods Department)
Andrew Anglemyer, Epidemiology Editor in the Methods Support Unit (Editorial and Methods Department)
Simon Turner, Statistical Editor in the Methods Support Unit (Editorial and Methods Department)

And we welcome:

Silvia Minozzi to the Cochrane Council as methods representative, with the associated position on the Methods Executive. A news post on the appointment is here
Tamara Lotfi, Gabriel Rada and Ashrita Saran, Convenors, Equity Methods Group
Hugh Waddington, Convenor, Non-Randomised Studies of Interventions Methods Group
Soumyadeep Bhaumik, Convenor, Priority Setting Methods Group
Lisa Affengruber and Candyce Hamel, Associate Convenors, Rapid Reviews Methods Group
Elizabeth Korevaar, Convenor, Statistics Methods Group
Angela Webster, Convenor, Prospective Meta-Analysis Methods Group
Andrew Back, Statistical Editor in the Methods Support Unit (Editorial and Methods Department)

With respect and best wishes,

Ella Flemyng
Methods Implementation Manager
Kerry Dwan
Methods Support Unit Lead and Statistical Editor
Tess Moore
Systematic Review Methodology Editor
Andrew Back
Statistical Editor