It is a growing trend to perform systematic reviews (SRs) in the social/welfare area, in particular as a foundation for policymaking and as a basis for development of new studies.
The research traditions in the areas of social/welfare and medicine/health are somewhat different. Differences include, for instance, the objects of study (more population studies), research methods (fewer RCTs, more observational studies, more qualitative research), outcome/result presentation (less focus on effect sizes, more on correlations) and more theoretical analyses.
In recent years, the requirements for policy to be evidence-based have also reached the social/welfare areas, and the governmental agencies in these areas increasingly demand SRs. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH) has an agreement with a number of governmental directorates within the social/welfare area to deliver SRs. This collaboration has existed for seven years, but during the first years, some of the directorates withdrew from the agreement, referring to “very little use of the reviews”.
The objectives of the training are that the commissioners from the social/welfare area will provide better and more precise commissions, and the review authors will perform better and more relevant SRs.
NIPH has used various approaches, for example, seminars (one to five days) with training in evidence-based practice, systematic reviews, research design and methods; linguistic and pedagogical changes in writing of reviews; close contact with the commissioners throughout the review process; evaluations of the use of reviews some months after publication; as well as support in assessing other research reports in various fields.
There has been development in the commissioners’ understanding of SRs and in the collaboration between commissioners and review authors. The quality of the reviews has improved, as have their use and usability.
The training has resulted in more relevant SRs, but the work has to continue because of new employees, development of review methods and changes in the social/welfare areas.
Patient or healthcare consumer involvement:
Users of NIPH’s SRs are trained in understanding the methods, in order to make review authors write better reviews and enable commissioners to use them better.