Is replication research informing the results of systematic reviews in knowledge translation research?

Curran J1, Vachon B2, Grimshaw JM3, Research R4
1Dalhousie University, Canada, 2Universite de Montreal, Canada, 3Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, Canada, 4Team, Canada

Background: Replication is necessary to advance science as reliable evidence depends on the empirical demonstration of its reproducibility, validity, and generalizability. Replication of prior research is rare in many research fields. In knowledge translation (KT) research, it has been argued that choice of KT strategy proceeds on the basis of intuition or anecdotal stories of success and complex interventions are generally insufficiently described to be replicated.

Objectives: To document the extent and type of replication present in the field of KT research for one specific intervention, audit and feedback.

Methods: We examined 140 randomized control trials included in a recent audit and feedback review for evidence of replication. Our data abstraction form was based on a replication framework developed through a concept analysis of the literature. Findings were analyzed to determine the number of studies reflecting different types of replication and their characteristics.

Results: Explicit reference to replication was found in a minority of studies included in the review. A small number (n = 24) of authors questioned the reliability of findings from previous studies in the background to their work. Fewer authors describe testing an intervention (n = 5) or the research design (n = 2) of a previous study when recording their methods. The most prevalent reference to replication was found in the discussion of study findings. A number of factors influencing generalizability, reliability and validity of study findings were identified as limitations by 62 authors and many authors (n = 54) shared recommendations for future research.

Conclusions: While opportunities for different types of replication can be found in individual studies, there is little evidence of intentional replication of a previous study. The lack of replication in this review restricts our confidence in the validity, reliability and generalizability of the effectiveness of audit and feedback interventions and thus limits the impact of the review.