SMF ICONS-Quant

Improving Conduct & reporting of Narrative Synthesis of Quantitative data (ICONS-Quant)

(project protocol)

Systematic reviews use reproducible and transparent methods to draw conclusions from the available body of evidence. Narrative synthesis (NS) is a method used in many reviews that address important public health and policy questions, where it is not possible, or sensible, to use statistical methods such as meta-analysis. A common problem with NS is that the methods are not reported and the basis for the conclusions is unclear. This means that it is impossible to know whether the review conclusions can be trusted. Research suggests that authors are confused about how to undertake and report NS. This must be addressed to ensure decisions can be based on trustworthy evidence. To improve the way that NS is conducted and reported, we plan to develop user-friendly guidance for authors on how best to implement NS to a high standard; and develop a reporting guideline for NS. The conduct guidance and reporting guidelines will be based on existing guidance and reflect agreements on best practice among a group of international experts in NS. To encourage uptake of the guidance we will also develop online learning resources for authors. This will include a webinar, a website providing key resources, and an online learning module and development of reporting guidelines.

Over half of Cochrane Reviews rely on narrative to present synthesis findings for some outcomes, narrative methods and around 16% use narrative only.  Concerns about lack of transparency of narrative synthesis are supported by work in the ICONS-Quant project which found that methods for narrative synthesis are typically not reported.  We are now finalising reporting guidance for narrative synthesis, developed based on expert consensus.  Additional guidance and training to support improved implementation of narrative synthesis methods is also in development as part of the ICONS-Quant project, due to complete mid-2019.


Led by Hilary Thomson, Joint co-ordinating editor of Cochrane Public Health of the MRC, CSO Social & Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow.

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