Writing the protocol/project plan
It is important to follow the guidance in the EPOC QES template. QES protocols have different sub sections in the methods sections than other types of systematic reviews such as reflexivity and a more flexible approach to study selection.
About this phase
What happens before this step
The project team and commissioner have agreed on a specific, answerable question that can be answered using qualitative evidence and concerns:
- peoples’ experiences and/or perceptions of a topic
- feasibility, acceptability and/or implementation
Complete the methodological plan for how the research team will answer the question.
Why is this step important?
It is important to clearly think through and transparently describe the steps planned when choosing, synthesizing and presenting the data. In a qualitative evidence synthesis protocol, it is also important to discuss alternatives that will be considered if, for example, there are too many studies, changes to the analysis approach based on the data, or very few studies are found.
Consider which machine learning (ML) functions can be applied to your review and which screening and/or analysis software the team is going to use. See the Machine Learning Team Sharepoint Room or contact the ML team for more information. (Access limited to NIPH authors)
Project leader with input from team members
Write the protocol and receive feedback from team members and the commissioner.
Decide one clear inclusion and exclusion criteria.
A finalized protocol or project plan- registered in PROSPERO and published on the FHI website
It is important to follow the guidance in the EPOC QES template. QES protocols have different sub sections in the methods sections than other types of systematic reviews such as reflexivity and a more flexible approach to study selection. It is also important to pay close attention to the differences in language used to describe the different methods. For example, in an intervention review we discuss risk of bias and study quality. However, in a QES we discuss concerns about methodological limitations and how these may impact on the findings in the primary studies.
Another area that will need to be thought through in much more detail in a QES than an intervention review is study selection. In a QES you can approach study selection in a comprehensive, more traditional way or in a theoretical way where you will not try to identify all relevant studies. For more guidance on searching and study selection see the webinar “Selecting studies and assessing methodological limitations.”
Finally, it is important that researchers reflect over how their previous experience both personally and professionally may influence their work. This reflection is presented in the reflexivity section of the methods chapter. More information on the reflexivity section can be found in the EPOC QES protocol and Glenton C, Lewin S, Downe S, Paulsen E, Munabi-Babigumira S, Agarwal S, Ames H et al. Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care (EPOC) Qualitative Evidence Syntheses, Differences From Reviews of Intervention Effectiveness and Implications for Guidance. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. January 2022. doi:10.1177/16094069211061950.
- WEIRD (Ways of Evaluating Important and Relevant Data) tool
- EPOC Qualitative Evidence Syntheses guidance on when to sample and how to develop a purposive sampling frame
Harris JL, Booth A, Cargo M, Hannes K, Harden A, Flemming K, Garside R, Pantoja T, Thomas J, Noyes J, Cochrane Qualitative and Implementation Methods Group Guidance series - paper 6: Methods for question formulation, searching and protocol development for qualitative evidence synthesis, Journal of Clinical Epidemiology (2018), doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2017.10.023.
Noyes J, Booth A, Cargo M, Flemming K, Harden A, Harris J, Garside R, Hannes K, Pantoja T, Thomas J. Qualitative evidence. Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions. 2019 Sep 23:525-45.
EVIPNet Europe. Guide to Qualitative Evidence Synthesis. Copenhagen: WHO Regional Office for Europe; 2020. https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/340807/WHO-EURO-2021-2272-42027-57819-eng.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
Booth A, Noyes J, Flemming K, Gerhardus A, Wahlster P, Van Der Wilt GJ, et al. (2016) Guidance on choosing qualitative evidence synthesis methods for use in health technology assessments of complex interventions [Online]. Available from: http://www.integrate-hta.eu/downloads/
Glenton C, Lewin S, Downe S, Paulsen E, Munabi-Babigumira S, Agarwal S, Ames H et al. Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care (EPOC) Qualitative Evidence Syntheses, Differences From Reviews of Intervention Effectiveness and Implications for Guidance. International Journal of Qualitative Methods. January 2022. doi:10.1177/16094069211061950