Approaches used by Cochrane Review Groups for Prioritization

In 2008, we conducted a survey and evaluation of the prioritisation process of Cochrane review groups that was published in the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology series. We are intending to conduct a follow-up evaluation in the future. 

Below are the results of the 2010 Monitoring and Registration Committee reports in response to the question: “Has your CRG established plans to ensure priority topics in your topic area are covered and up to date?” Data have been anonymised. Our thanks goes out to Rachel Marshall for compiling this information for us! In addition to this, the Cochrane Airways Review Group kindly provided a lay summary of their process. 

Working with external partners/stakeholders to prioritise topics/reviews

James Lind Alliance

  • Using the priorities of the James Lind Alliance to prioritise topics/reviews.
  • Undertaking a prioritisation process with the James Lind Alliance.


  • Identifying priorities of consumers and patients by discussion with consumer members and representatives of consumer organisations.


  • Using a programme grant to prioritise the Cochrane Reviews identified by the funder.

Guideline developers/policy makers

  • Developing close links with guideline developers and policy makers, and ensuring that relationships are maintained after a prioritisation exercise or priority review has been undertaken.
  • Surveying policy makers for their priorities.
  • Employing a medical student to compare existing systematic reviews with a list of priority topics generated by meetings of policy makers.

Clinical societies/experts

  • Identifying and using the priorities of specialist clinical societies in a topic area.
  • Holding editor-conducted ‘interest group’ meetings at conferences, where external experts evaluate the topic list, prioritise topics, and add new interventions.
  • Contacting representatives from expert partners requesting their ‘top five’ priority reviews in a topic area and holding a prioritisation meeting with them to initially select 20 titles.
  • Using a programme grant to engage with clinicians to identify topics of uncertainty and importance.

Combined approaches

  • Contacting key external organisations and stakeholders to find out whether there is a particular Cochrane Review/update of interest for guidelines or from their consumers.
  • Creating of an alliance of national and international organisations who work in the field. In return for a yearly contribution, organisations will be invited to nominate someone to join a panel of clinical experts to prioritise reviews.
  • Involving a variety of key stakeholders in prioritisation, including leading charities, guideline developers, consumers, as well as clinicians and content experts in the field.

Specific approaches for engaging with external stakeholders

  • Employing a stakeholder liaison officer.

Working with internal partners/stakeholders to prioritise topics/reviews


  • Creating ‘Field Editors’ who are responsible for ensuring the scope within their field is sufficiently covered.
  • Conducting at least annual prioritisation meetings with the editorial office and board (face-to-face or over email), to prioritise assigned titles, protocols to reviews, and reviews to update.
  • Conducting prioritisation meetings of the editorial board, who apply the following criteria to decide whether or not a review/title is a priority:
    • Does the proposed review address a major burden of disease or problem?
    • Does the proposed review address a 'burning question' for patients, carers or practitioners?
    • What is the likelihood that the proposed review will influence either clinical practice or guide future research worldwide?
    • Does the proposed review overlap with other published or ongoing Cochrane
    • Reviews?
    • Is the proposed review feasible with regard to scope, resources, and methodology?


  • Accommodating author or stakeholder priorities when they arise.
  • Relying on authors’ knowledge of their specific topic area to identify and undertake reviews of priority topics.


  • Working with a Cochrane Field to survey consumers about their priority concerns.

Prioritising uncertainties

  • Using a grant to identify knowledge gaps in the group's scope. These gaps will be rationalized and advertised to potential author groups.
  • Working with DuETS to assess whether uncertainties identified 5 years ago are still uncertainties.

Prioritising by the amount of literature on a topic

  • Identifying trials that aren’t covered in Cochrane Reviews and then prioritising these topic areas.
  • 'Horizon scanning' via literature searching to identify new areas of clinical uncertainty and topical interest, and to keep up to date with new pharmacological and technological developments in the area.
  • Using our topic list and information provided by our Trials Register to highlight areas where reviews may be needed.
  • De-prioritising ‘empty’ reviews.

Prioritising by relevance to low- and middle-income countries, or by global need

  • Involving a developing country editor in prioritisation.
  • Responding to global priorities and needs as and when they arise (e.g. responding to pandemics).
  • Prioritising Cochrane Reviews of interventions for people who are 'communication vulnerable' and people in low and middle income countries.

Prioritising updates by times cited and accessed

  • Updating Cochrane Reviews that are most cited and accessed (as available from the data provided by Wiley).

Combined approaches to prioritisation

  • Prioritising topics identified through editors via their clinical practice; through discussion with Editorial team; searching literature; media etc.
  • Prioritising by strategic relevance, healthcare need (determined by millennium development goals), and strength of authorship team.