R2A is always keen to crowdsource solutions to problems that individuals, programmes, and organisations face when communicating development research. A thorny issue that many encounter is how to make complex and lengthy systematic review findings accessible and relevant to various readers. R2A issued a call via social media for top tips about communicating systematic reviews, asking what does and does not work.
There is a growing trend towards asking for systematic reviews of particular interventions or specific topics within development, in order to analyse a large body of research and attempt to make the resulting policy implications clearer and better underpinned by rigorous evidence. Systematic reviews also usefully uncover areas of further research that need exploration or more funding. However, communicating the findings of systematic reviews succinctly and effectively is a challenge – not least because the findings of systematic reviews are often that the evidence is underdeveloped or lacking in a crucial area for the given policy question.
We received a number of top tips via Research to Action’s Twitter account and also from development professionals at the What Works Global Summit 2016, and here are a few of our favourites:
- The National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools in Canada @nccmt tweeted to recommend
- Transparify (who produce a global ranking of think tanks’ transparency) @transparify tweeted to recommend
Advice from the What Works Global Summit 2016:
- Radhika Menon, Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer at the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie), told us about her experiences launching 3ie’s latest systematic review on education. Her top tips included:
- Make a clear communications plan and set objectives for dissemination of the systematic review.
- Seek expert advisers’ opinions about communicating the review.
- Benchmark the findings so that the results are contextualized to the countries reviewed, making the findings of the systematic review more transparent and where appropriate relevant across different policy environments.
- Make the findings accessible to different audiences by writing an executive summary for the public and a shorter condensed version of the review in an easily digestible report for policymakers.
- Seek high profile endorsements from policymakers to give the systematic review findings or policy recommendations credibility.
- Use plain language and make the policy recommendations very clear.
- Use photos and infographics to make the outputs visually appealing.
- Ensure that the report is available in a number of digital-friendly formats.
- Translate the systematic review into different languages.
- Make use of a social media campaign to disseminate the systematic review across different platforms and use a personalised review hashtag (see #3ieEducation as an example), so that the reach of the review can be tracked.
- Sally Gear, Head of the Education Department at DFID, recommended that you not rely on a systematic review on its own; other outputs are important in order to communicate well.
- Caine Rolleston, Senior Lecturer at the IOE based at UCL, emphasised that simply stating what works is not enough to communicate the findings effectively; how the systematic review findings can help improve policy needs to be teased out. He went on to explain that it is not just about having more information from producing a systematic review, but really addressing the needs of policymakers.
- David Evans, Senior Economist at the World Bank, stated that we need to convince people that policymakers trust targeted and shorter reports.
- Emmanuel Jimenez, Executive Director of 3ie, summed up the conversation about communicating the findings of a systematic review to relevant policymakers nicely during the launch of 3ie’s education review; he said: ‘we have the ingredients but policymakers need to be part of the process of writing the recipe’.
What R2A liked about 3ie’s education systematic review launch:
- Infographics are an effective way to capture the key findings of a systematic review in an accessible way for stakeholders without a solid understanding of statistical methods, and are a great way to improve dissemination across social media. Take a look at 3ie’s infographics summarising their systematic review of education as a good example.
- Convening a free launch event with wider stakeholders, policymakers, and researchers works well to unpack the key findings in accessible forum whilst using layman’s language. Inviting relevant policymakers and researchers to discuss (and critique) the findings at the event helps to pull out both the associated policy recommendations and the suggested areas for further research.
- Livestreaming and professionally filming the event makes the event accessible to those unable to participate in different locations, allowing them to still join in or watch the recordings later.
- Capturing the event proceedings using social media allows you to curate the digital conversations with different tools, such as Storify or Shorthand Social, to really delve into the engagement and feedback on the systematic review’s key themes.
Further resources about ‘what works’ communicating systematic reviews:
- A 2015 study by Crick and Hartling compared ‘Preferences of Knowledge Users for Two Formats of Summarizing Results from Systematic Reviews: Infographics and Critical Appraisals’. It found that infographics were more aesthetically appealing as a means of summarizing evidence, whereas critical appraisals were rated higher in terms of clarity. The study, which was conducted within the context of health services, found that infographics were deemed more useful for communication with patients and critical appraisals more useful for communication with professionals.
- A 2015 study by Santesso et al., ‘A summary to communicate evidence from systematic reviews to the public improved understanding and accessibility of information: a randomized controlled trial’ found that making use of a plain language summary compared to the Cochrane Collaboration’s standard dissemination format improved the public’s understanding of the findings, even accounting for different educational levels. The plain language summary included a narrative, the quantitative findings of the systematic review, and the associated confidence levels in the evidence.
- Gough et al.’s 2012 book An Introduction to Systematic Reviews includes a chapter ‘making a difference with systematic reviews’ giving advice on communicating systematic reviews. The authors note that ‘although systematic reviewers have made great achievements in scrutinising and summarising mountains of research, review reports still remain firmly in academia unless efforts are made to share their findings with the outside world’ (p.229).
Do you have any advice about how you have effectively communicated a systematic review or know about any good resources that we missed? Leave a comment below or tweet us @ResearchtoAction.
Don’t know what a systematic review is, or lacking inspiration about how to communicate them? Browse Cochrane’s animated storyboard explaining what a systematic review is and what it does.