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Getting to know you: The Evidence Synthesis Team at Ten

Posted on January 20th 2020

(Photo shows: Dr Rebecca Abbot, Dr Noreen Orr, Alison Bethel, Morwenna Rogers, Prof Jo Thompson-Coon, Harriet Hunt, Rebecca Whear)

The close of 2019 saw a very special anniversary – ten years of evidence synthesis at PenARC. Evidence synthesis is a way of bringing together and summarising all of the research on a particular topic or question. Our Evidence Synthesis Team work closely with those who will eventually use their findings to help inform evidence-based practice and develop capacity in this skilled area across the south west.

We decided to celebrate the team’s birthday with a special feature to find out who they are, what happens up there on the third floor and, fundamentally, who brings in the biscuits?

PenARC: Looking back to 2009, what do you recall about the team’s genesis?

EST: It was just Becky Whear, Ken Stein, Kate Boddy and Jo Thompson Coon. We did everything together – it was new, fun and exciting – we maintain the same inclusive and enthusiastic attitude to all our work, even 10 years on.

PenARC: Over its ten year development have you noticed any changes to the way that the team works or to the work that it does?

EST: Ten years is a long time in evidence synthesis – we see a much greater emphasis on patient and public involvement in systematic reviews now – 10 years ago it wasn’t really something we considered and there was no clear guidance on how to do it or why.  Kate Boddy challenged us to do something about it whilst she was in the team and I’m happy to say that patient and public involvement is now central to all our reviews.

Over the last 10 years, we’ve also developed a reputation for excellence in developing the methods used by information specialists to identify relevant research.  Some of our most exciting work is contributing to the advance of methods in this area.

 Finally, we’ve diversified quite a lot, obtaining funding from other sources, and delivering evidence syntheses for national and international audiences as well as local audiences.

PenARC: How would you like to see the team develop over the next ten years?

EST: More of the same.  Great people having fun doing great work that makes a difference.  On a more serious note, we’d like to see our funding diversify further to improve the long term sustainability of the team. 

PenARC: Are there particular pieces of research or projects that have stayed with you from the last ten years?

EST: We are most proud of the work we’ve done in building methodological capacity and understanding within the research and health and social care communities in the South West – through the PenCLAHRC question identification and prioritisation process, the Search and Review clinics that we to run on a fortnightly basis to provide advice to others taking on systematic reviews and the innovative teaching pioneered by our information specialists to equip librarians with the skills to undertake systematic reviews.

PenARC: Have you noticed the impact of EST’s work first hand?

EST: Yes – a good example of this is a project that we completed recently, funded by the NIHR Research for Patient Benefit that looked at the evidence for parent to parent support in neonatal units.  Throughout the project we worked with parents from a local peer support group, SNUG. We worked with them in an extremely parent and child friendly location to enable them to engage with us and the project with ease and as a result we have established a good relationship with people who want to be involved in further research projects. The findings of the review have also enabled SNUG to describe the existing evidence base to potential funders and to show how their service can tackle some of the gaps identified from the research. This has enabled them to secure substantial funding to maintain and grow their existing service provision.

PenARC: What does a ‘normal’ work day look like in the EST office?

EST: Funny you should ask: we wrote a blog about this which sums it up pretty well! Tends to involve a lot of coffee, cake and collaborations.

PenARC: Does the team work collaboratively on research/projects or do members have particular responsibilities?

EST: We all have slightly different skills, so more often than not, a couple or more of us are involved in reviews and/or teaching as we each bring something different to the table – and we believe that our inclusive attitude to team working is one of the secrets of our success.

PenARC: Which skills would make somebody suited to evidence synthesis?

EST: Inquisitive, persistent, and you have to like trouble-shooting or problem solving. You have to read a lot in this job – so it’s not surprising we are all avid readers.

PenARC: You work with a lot of different groups and partners. Can you tell me about the role of communication in the team’s work? The team’s Creative Communication Seminars series has proved very popular.

EST: Good communication is essential for everything we do. We meet weekly and have a round- up of all the current projects, teaching activities, and possible dissemination ideas etc. Whenever there are opportunities to collaborate, we share them across the team for anyone to take up. We tweet a lot and we have our blog where we share our ideas, projects and conference musings for anyone to read.

PenARC: Is there an aspect of the team’s work that you particularly enjoy?

EST: The support.  While we have a lot of fun across all the work we do, one of the strengths of the team is the support we give each other academically, professionally and personally.

PenARC: What’s your Monday motivation? Your FriYay celebration?

EST: Monday: coffee, Friday: gin!

PenARC: Which team member is most likely to bring in the biscuits/arrange get-togethers/remember to empty the composter?

EST: Alison, Jo and Noreen……in that order

PenARC: If EST had a Daemon what shape would it take? (This one’s for Jo TC!)

EST: Well… we’re inquisitive, fun, problem solvers… possibly an otter?

PenARC: And finally, if EST had a motto, what would it be?

EST: That’s a tricky one. How about… “One for all and all for one” or “It’s all about the cake (and the coffee!)”

Find out more about the team and their work here, follow the team on Twitter @EvidSynthTeam and their blog here.

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