We asked Katy Sutcliffe & Dylan Kneale to reflect on collaborations between EPPI-Centre and the Evidence Synthesis Team… 

So.. Collaborating with us? How has it been?

Fantastic – especially having trips to lovely Exeter and eating Jo’s home-made cakes! More seriously, it is great to work with a team who, like us, have been grappling for some time with developing methods for evidence syntheses that deal with complex issues and that produce findings which are relevant and useful to policy makers. The team are really committed and passionate about their work – and have such a wide range of expertise. Both EST and EPPI-Centre like to ‘push the methodological envelope’ and it’s brilliant to find such kindred spirits that we can have nerdy discussions about evidence synthesis with!

How did it all start?

Our shared interests in evidence synthesis have brought us together at various conferences (usually over a beer!). One of the first times was at Cochrane Colloquium in Seoul, which offered an opportunity to start conversations about generalisability and causality in systematic reviews. Since then we’ve continued to discuss and collaborate on ideas about methods and topics. In particular, our work at the EPPI-Centre in using Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) – a method that is relatively novel in evidence synthesis – was something that the evidence synthesis team thought might be useful in their work. QCA is designed to explore how complex interventions work and to identify the critical ingredients of complex interventions.

The first project that we got involved with was on non-pharmacological interventions for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) delivered in school settings. The team had produced a really comprehensive review involving both qualitative and quantitative syntheses. Their meta‐analyses had demonstrated beneficial effects for interventions that combine multiple features but meta-regression was not able to provide a consistent message about which types of interventions were more effective than others. So they asked us to provide some training on QCA and work with them to develop a deeper understanding of the most effective components of the interventions under study. Since then, we’ve continued to work together on projects involving QCA, most recently on a review of mental health support for children with long-term conditions. We are also starting to collaborate on a new studentship, and have planned to work together on several projects that involve making systematic review evidence more useful for patients, practitioners and policy-makers, both in terms of enhancing the interpretability of evidence as well as its applicability.

What next?

Next year EPPI-Centre will be celebrating 25 years of providing a policy reviews facility for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in England. Earlier this year DHSC sought to extend their capacity for reviews and awarded grants to two facilities – we could not have been more delighted to hear that the Evidence Synthesis Team were the other successful applicants.

Working with EST helps us to think of new ideas for methods for evidence synthesis, challenges and improves our understanding of our own work and practices, and helps us to come up with ways of understanding and responding to some of the big public health challenges. So we are looking forward to many more years of fruitful collaboration, nerdiness…. and cake!