SCIE Report 3: Using evidence from diverse research designs

By Jenny Popay and Katrina Roen

Published November 2003

Context

SCIE, in the formation of its good practice guidance, draws on a number of sources of evidence, including research, policy and organisational, practitioner and service user knowledge. We strongly believe that it is only through looking at social care from a whole perspective that we can truly advise social care workers on what works best. We call this a 'systematic review' - a systematic and rigorous review of all available evidence, designed to eliminate bias and assemble as complete as possible a picture of the knowledge available.

However, the development of systematic review methods has been uneven. The major international bodies working on systematic reviews in health and social have prioritised questions of effectiveness, and have therefore given primary emphasis to methods of examining controlled outcome studies. If other questions also matter, such as why interventions do or do not work or whether they offer the outcomes that service users want, then different kinds of studies must be examined, and different review methods employed. The different kinds of studies that are required include qualitative accounts of the views of those receiving services, and descriptive and observational work on how interventions are put into practice. In the systematic review community, these are sometimes referred to as 'studies with diverse designs' and since such studies by definition use a variety of methods, they require different kinds of methods to synthesise their findings.

This work is still in its infancy and there are few proven methods for SCIE to draw on to use as the basis of its work, especially in the social care sector. For example, is it better to synthesise qualitative evidence using an informal narrative review, thematic analysis, or to conduct an aggregation of the findings?

Some researchers are actively aiming to develop methods for synthesising evidence from diverse sources. Others are developing methods as a by-product of researching a specific research question that requires the use of a range of evidence sources.

Purpose

This report provides a number of examples of research that are deliberately or inadvertently developing methods for synthesising evidence from diverse sources. It is a part of a larger SCIE programme of work focused on using knowledge in social care.

It provides a partial picture of methodological work synthesising evidence from research using diverse research designs. It looks at work both on the synthesis of qualitative evidence and on the synthesis of qualitative and quantitative evidence.

Audience

The report is aimed at all those who conduct research, in particular systematic reviews, in the social care sector.

Messages from the report

The report contains a number of examples of research that has been conducted. The examples represent only the tip of an iceberg of relevant work but at least serve to illustrate the nature, if not the scale, of the innovation involved.

Related links

SCIE's resources on using knowledge in social care