NARRATIVE SYNTHESIS: A METHODOLOGY REVIEW

Developing methods for the narrative synthesis of quantitative and qualitative data in systematic reviews of effects

Background

To date statistical approaches to combining findings from different studies have received most attention in the systematic review literature. However, these techniques are not always appropriate for quantitative data and are unlikely to be relevant to the synthesis of findings from qualitative research or from mixed method studies. These studies provide evidence on the implementation and experience of those involved in the interventions, which, combined with evidence on outcomes, can increase the utility of systematic reviews for policymakers and practitioners. In this context narrative approaches to the synthesis of evidence from multiple studies are being developed. However, unlike statistical meta-analysis, these narrative approaches do not rest on an authoritative body of knowledge about how to ensure rigour and reliability.

Findings

On the basis of a critical analysis of methodological literature and of existing approaches to narrative synthesis in a sample of systematic reviews, we developed a framework, incorporating a collection of tools and techniques, to guide the conduct of narrative synthesis in the context of systematic reviews.

We demonstrated the way in which the guidance might be applied in two guidance-led syntheses of previously reviewed data. These suggested that the guidance is flexible and can contribute to increased transparency in the narrative synthesis process.

Conducted by: J Popay1, H Roberts2, A Sowden3, M Petticrew4, N Britten5, L Arai2, K Roen1, M Rodgers3

1. Institute of Health Sciences, Lancaster University; 2. Child Health Research & Policy Unit, City University; 3. Centre for Reviews and Dissemination; 4. MRC Social & Public Health Sciences Unit, Glasgow University; 5. Peninsula Medical School, University of Exeter

Publications

A copy of the full report can be obtained by sending an email request to j.popay@lancaster.ac.uk.

Arai L, Britten N, Popay J, Roberts H, Petticrew M, Rodgers M, Sowden A. Testing methodological developments in the conduct of narrative synthesis: a demonstration review of research on the implementation of smoke alarm interventions. Evidence & Policy 2007;3(3):361-83

Popay J, Roberts H, Sowden A, Petticrew M, Britten N, Arai L, Roen K, Rodgers M. Developing guidance on the conduct of narrative synthesis in systematic reviews. J Epidemiol Comm Health. 2005;59 Suppl 1:A7

Rodgers M, Sowden A, Petticrew M, Arai L, Roberts H, Britten N, Popay J. Testing methodological guidance on the conduct of narrative synthesis in systematic reviews: effectiveness of interventions to promote smoke alarm ownership and function. Evaluation. 2009 ; 15 (1): 49-73

Posters

Rodgers M, Arai L, Britten N, Petticrew M, Popay J, Roberts H, Sowden A. Guidance on the conduct of narrative synthesis in systematic reviews: a comparison of guidance-led narrative synthesis versus meta-analysis. 14th Cochrane Colloquium; 2006 October; Dublin, Ireland

Presentations

Popay J, Roberts H, Sowden A, Petticrew M, Arai L, Rogers M, Britten N. et al. Developing guidance on the conduct of narrative synthesis in systematic reviews. BSA Medical Sociology Group Annual Conference; 2005 September; Edinburgh, UK

Rodgers M, Arai L, Baldwin S, Britten N, Petticrew M, Popay J, Roberts H, Sowden A. Developing guidance on the conduct of narrative synthesis in systematic reviews. Society for Social Medicine 49th Annual Scientific Meeting; 2005 September; University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK

Rodgers M, Popay J, Petticrew M, Roberts H, Arai L, Sowden A. Developing guidance on the conduct of narrative synthesis in systematic reviews. ARRC Opening Conference; 2005 May; York, UK Rodgers M, Popay J, Petticrew M, Roberts H, Arai L, Sowden A. Developing guidance on the conduct of narrative synthesis in systematic reviews. 6th International Campbell Colloquium; 2006 February; Los Angeles, USA

Funding

Commissioned by ESRC Research Methods Programme