Put evidence production and communication at the forefront of pandemic preparedness, Cochrane Convenes report urges

The COVID-19 pandemic, now entering its third year, has created an unprecedented focus on health evidence for people working in governments, businesses and non-governmental organizations as well as members of the public. The emergence of Omicron only reinforced the need for timely evidence as decision makers across the globe scrambled to guide healthcare services and the public once again.

Since the early days of the pandemic, research synthesis organisations like Cochrane have been active in curating and analysing the thousands of studies being published on COVID-19 to help decision makers make sense of the evidence (link to: https://covid-19.cochrane.org/ ).

Seeking to learn from the experience, in October 2021, Cochrane, invited key thought leaders from around the world to reflect on their experiences of producing, sharing and using evidence during the pandemic. Working with co-sponsor the World Health Organization (WHO), and co-organizer COVID-END (COVID-19 Evidence Network to support Decision-making), an event was convened with a view to making a collaborative call to action on areas for improvement.

Over 90 policy makers, researchers, funders, journalists, science communicators and consumer representatives from 30 countries contributed across seven roundtable discussions. Their recommendations were grouped and reviewed by an expert advisory group, and a summary was presented and discussed at an open plenary session.

Roundtable topics

  • Prioritizing and identifying evidence needs of users
  • Connecting primary and secondary research
  • Producing timely and relevant evidence synthesis
  • Getting the right evidence to people
  • Helping people find and use evidence
  • Engaging with decision-makers to support evidence-informed policy and practice
  • Getting political buy-in for research

Across the roundtables, three cross-cutting lessons emerged:

  • the evidence response to COVID-19 has been inequitable – in terms of the focus of the evidence, who has been producing it and who it reaches;
  • scientific methods, tools and processes have been pushed to their limits in trying to answer questions at the speed required;
  • in the face of an infodemic, the research community has struggled to communicate scientific uncertainties and gain trust for the evidence available.

A full report, complete with recommendations to the key stakeholders in evidence generation and use, has now been published. Chief among the recommendations in the call to action are:

  • Funders to provide resources to meet national and international research needs, which must address inequities; and particularly to fund evidence generation, communication, networks and infrastructure in low- and middle-income countries
  • Politicians to demand evidence; be transparent about how (and what) evidence is used in decision making; and to hold those deliberately creating and sharing mis/disinformation to account
  • Researchers to support research transparency and data sharing; and raise the alarm about fraudulent studies
  • Science communicators to learn what works in communicating uncertainty, generating trust in evidence and countering mis/disinformation

Now it is time to act on the recommendations, and urgently. Over the course of 2022, Cochrane will engage with a wider group of experts in relevant disciplines to take forward some of the most pressing recommendations within its sphere of influence. However, it cannot address all the issues in isolation.

Cochrane has therefore launched a call to action on trusted evidence for all in health emergencies and is urging organizations who produce, use, fund or communicate about evidence to support it by helping spread the recommendations further and acting on them.

The call to action aligns with recommendations recently published by the Global Commission on Evidence to Address Societal Challenges and by the WHO Evidence-informed Policy Network (EVIPNet). Though each initiative takes a different angle, with the Evidence Commission addressing wider societal challenges and EVIPNet focusing on specific evidence-to-policy issues, all three reinforce the need for change and for strong evidence ecosystems that are equipped to support health system preparedness in future.

It is our hope that together, we can help build an evidence community that is ready to cater for all users of evidence wherever they are based in the world.

The main recording of the session can be found on Youtube:

The full Cochrane Convenes report, along with the call to action, is available online here.


Author

Emma Thompson

Image of blog author Emma Thompson. Emma has blonde hair, blue eyes, red lipstick and a black and white striped shirt.

Advocacy and Partnerships Manager at Cochrane
Competing interests: none to declare


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