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Where to find the best evidence?

Published onApr 25, 2024
Where to find the best evidence?

I have limited time to search for and appraise evidence. Where do I start?

When searching for research evidence to answer questions along the policy/ action cycle, both efficiency in searching and the quality of the evidence found need to be considered. Table 3.2 includes sources of primary and secondary research evidence vetted for both criteria. Check footnotes to the table to determine which sources include a quality assessment. Table 3.3 includes sources of data (primary research) that will also help with the identification of a high-priority issue and in the M&E of interventions. Table 3.4 details sources of evidence products (tertiary research).

Being efficient in searching saves time and can be facilitated by searching for more synthesized evidence, for instance, by focusing on evidence products such as guidelines and EBPs or evidence syntheses such as systematic reviews. Searching for primary studies requires more time, skills and experience, and should generally be considered only for filling gaps when no synthesized evidence is available.

It is important to always aim for the highest-quality evidence available. Tools are available to help in the assessment of different types of research evidence, including evidence products, syntheses and primary studies – see Table 3.6 later in this chapter. There are also some evidence sources known for their high quality standards (for instance, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews) or that include an expert assessment of quality (such as Health Systems Evidence).

d. Indirect research evidence is obtained from other related or similar situations (for example, information on severe acute respiratory syndrome [SARS] and Middle East respiratory syndrome [MERS] was used to inform guidance in the COVID-19 pandemic).

Fig. 3.1. Risks associated with prioritizing information (left column) other than best evidence, or prioritizing particular types of evidence over others in decision-making processes (right column).

Source: adapted from the McMaster Health Forum 2021 [67].

Primary studies may serve as a valuable source of evidence when synthesized evidence is not available. They can also help to gain an understanding of the local context, to assess whether the problem is important at the local level (e.g. in a specific country or state), and to understand implementation issues (e.g. acceptability and affordability). These primary studies should always be critically evaluated for quality – see Table 3.6 later in this chapter). High-quality data also helps with the identification of a high-priority issue and in the M&E of interventions (Table 3.3).

What if I don’t have a paid subscription to academic journals?

Hinari Access to Research for Health Programme provides free or very low cost online access to the major journals in biomedical and related social sciences to local, non-profit institutions in many low- and middle-income countries. It is accessible to WHO staff and eligible countries. If your institution is not eligible for access to journals through Hinari, you may be eligible through other initiatives.

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