An introduction to narrative synthesis of quantitative data: a participatory workshop using a worked example from public health

Thomson H1, Doyle J2, McKenzie J3, Thomas J4
1Cochrane Public Health Group, University of Glasgow, 2Cochrane Public Health , 3Statistical Methods Group; Monash University, 4EPPI-Centre, UCL (CQIMG, CPHG, #CochraneTech)

Objectives: To facilitate learning:

1. through experience about how to conduct a narrative synthesis;

2. about the challenge of ensuring transparency and consistency in narrative synthesis.

Description: Narrative synthesis is a common synthesis method and used to synthesise data when meta-analysis is not possible or appropriate. Around 10% of Cochrane Reviews use narrative synthesis for some or all of the data. In public health reviews, where there are often multiple sources of heterogeneity, narrative synthesis is frequently the main synthesis method. Despite this, narrative synthesis is often poorly reported, and the links between the data and the conclusions of the synthesis are often not transparent. The persistence of these problems may, in part, be due to the lack of support or clear guidance to promote rigour in narrative synthesis.

The workshop will start with a presentation on the principles and challenges of narrative synthesis, and useful tools to improve transparency. Participants will then have the opportunity to trial the knowledge gained in the presentation. Participants will be provided with extracted and tabulated data from a published Cochrane Review of a public health intervention, and will be asked to prepare a brief narrative synthesis of one or more outcomes. Small group discussion will feed into a final discussion with the whole group about the issues in preparing a narrative, including promoting transparency and replicability.