Cochrane Methodology Anniversary Series

Posted on behalf of Professor Mike Clarke, Director, All Ireland Hub for Trials Methodology Research, Queen’s University Belfast and Co-ordinating Editor, Cochrane Methodology Review Group

It’s not quite a case of ‘it was 20 years ago today’, but 2013 sees the 20th anniversary of the establishment of The Cochrane Collaboration, the world’s largest organisation producing systematic reviews in health and social care. As part of the year’s celebrations, reflections and future gazing, a special collection of articles has been prepared for Systematic Reviews. This highlights the work of the Cochrane Methods Groups and others in developing the methodology for what was still a relatively new area of scientific research back in the early 1990s. At times, for some of us, that does not seem so far in the past. But then we go into a classroom to teach undergraduates who will become the future nurses, midwives, doctors, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and others who will use systematic reviews, and realise that they were not even born when 77 people from 19 countries gathered in a former bakery in Oxford, England to set up the Collaboration in 1993. Now, more than 30,000 people in over 100 countries are actively working on Cochrane Reviews, helping to prepare, maintain and disseminate evidence needed by decision makers. This work has been underpinned by methodology that has been developed through those two decades and it will continue to be supported by further developments into the future.

This special collection of articles draws heavily on the work of the Cochrane Methods Groups, which bring together past, present and future world experts on the methodology of systematic reviews or evidence synthesis, and rigorous evaluations more generally.  The series includes articles about the methods for finding, appraising, analyzing and presenting evidence about the effects of health and social care. It also provides insights into the synthesis of evidence in areas, such as qualitative research, economics and diagnostic-test accuracy. And beyond this activity, there are Cochrane Groups looking at some of the other challenging but growing areas for reviews. Among others, these include methods to improve the central collection and re-analysis of individual participant data, the incorporation of equity into both individual studies and reviews, and the prioritisation of research.  

Twenty years ago, there were hundreds of systematic reviews available to help patients, practitioners, the public and policy makers make well-informed choices about interventions. In 2013, there are more than 5000 full Cochrane Reviews and several times that number of systematic reviews scattered across other journals. The dedication and hard work of many people, inside and outside The Cochrane Collaboration, to ensure that the methods for all these reviews are robust have helped to ensure that their findings are reliable. This, in turn, has made it easier for people making decisions about their own or someone else’s care to choose interventions that work, avoid those that do not, and study those that are as yet unproven.

Two decades on from the first Colloquium, convenors of these Groups are joining more than 1000 other delegates at the October 2013 Cochrane Colloquium in Quebec City, Canada. To follow the discussion on Twitter, the hashtag is #cochranequebec

The special collection is available here: http://www.systematicreviewsjournal.com/series/cochrane

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