The COVID-19 pandemic has elicited an explosion of activities among all types of researchers, including in the evidence-synthesis, technology-assessment and guideline-development communities that have long track records of supporting decision-making locally, nationally and internationally. These activities span the full gamut of COVID-19 issues, including traditional infection prevention and control but also how to manage impacts on mental health and family violence, health- and social-care systems, education, employment, financial protection, food safety and security, government services, housing, public safety and justice, recreation and transportation. These activities also span the full array of contexts where the COVID-19 pandemic is playing out, including low-, middle- and high-income countries.
The COVID-19 Evidence Network to support Decision-making (COVID-END) has come together to help those already supporting decision-making to find and use the best evidence that is already out there (i.e. to support the evidence-demand side) and to help reduce duplication in and better coordinate the evidence syntheses, technology assessment and guidelines being produced (i.e., to support the evidence supply side).
COVID-END’s resources to support decision-makers include:
- a guide to COVID-19 evidence sources (to make the most of what little time they or their staff have to find evidence to inform a particular decision)
- a four-part taxonomy of the decisions that may need to be made as the pandemic and pandemic response enter (or re-enter) different phases (which COVID-END is now using to create inventories of evidence and possibly a searchable database in future
- a rapid-evidence model that can be used or adapted in any country to describe – in a three-hour turn-around time – the evidence that already exists to inform a particular decision
- tips and tools for those supporting decision-makers
COVID-END’s resources to support researchers include:
- resources for researchers considering and conducting COVID-19 evidence syntheses
To support this work, COVID-END has convened working groups to achieve and document quick-wins, and to establish processes to achieve and document longer-term wins, in seven areas:
- scoping where support and coordination is most needed and what principles should underpin such support and coordination
- engaging those already supporting decision-makers to work in more coordinated and efficient ways
- digitizing as many aspects of the work as possible to facilitate coordination and capture efficiencies
- synthesizing the evidence that already exists in ways that are more coordinated and efficient and that balance quality and timeliness
- recommending evidence-based approaches in ways that are more coordinated and efficient and that balance quality and timeliness
- packaging evidence and guidelines in ways that meet the needs of citizens, providers, policymakers and researchers in different contexts and languages
- sustaining the efforts that strengthen institutions and processes so that we are even better prepared for future challenges
Rather than have teams supporting decision-making in dozens of countries scrambling to find existing research evidence on the same question or similar questions about face masks in a one-week period (as we recently found), COVID-END is enabling these groups to find what’s already there and then choose whether to use it, adapt it to their context or work with a research partner to fill a gap in what’s known. Rather than have at least nine research groups run searches of the research literature every morning, COVID-END is encouraging these groups to optimize and share a smaller number of searches.
COVID-END’s Scoping working group has developed, and COVID-END’s partners have endorsed, seven principles that underpin COVID-END’s work:
- supporting (not competing with or replacing) well-positioned regional, national and sub-national organizations that are working in close partnership with key target audiences and already responding to their evidence needs
- supporting – with a common brand/identity, small agile secretariat, and simple working group structure – a distributed network of organizations and individuals to play to their comparative advantages and leverage one another’s work
- seeking out quick wins for those supporting decision-makers and among those involved in preparing evidence syntheses, technology assessments and guidelines, and taking measured steps to longer-term solutions that can better support decision-makers
- strengthening existing institutions (e.g., Campbell and Cochrane) and processes (e.g., protocol registration in PROSPERO) and contributing to their long-term sustainability
- addressing a diversity of regional and linguistic needs among decision-makers and those who support them
- ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion in the leadership of the initiative and its working groups (e.g., achieving a balance of co-chairs by gender and from high-income countries and from low- and middle-income countries)
- committing to related principles articulated by others
- Principles of high quality evidence synthesis as articled by Evidence Synthesis International
- Principles of open access to of all data, methods, processes, code, software, publications, education and peer review produced through the initiative (in keeping with ‘open synthesis’ principles
Together we can make a big difference in minimizing the human suffering being caused by COVID-19. We can also position ourselves optimally for addressing the more everyday challenges that we will return to when the worst of COVID-19 is behind us.