Synthesizing and presenting results when meta-analysis is not possible

Session Type
Workshop - training
Synthesis of evidence without meta-analysis
Target audience
Review authors (suitable for new and experienced authors), editors, trainers
Level of difficulty

Background: In reviews where meta-analysis is not used, authors commonly report results study-by-study or draw conclusions without reporting how findings were interpreted across studies. These approaches may leave decision-makers to make sense of findings themselves, and undermine confidence in the evidence. There are many circumstances that may preclude the use of meta-analysis of effect estimates. For example, when there is incomplete information reported about the intervention effect estimates (e.g. missing standard errors), or inconsistency in the reported effect metrics across studies. Planning for circumstances that may preclude meta-analysis can ensure that reviewers make the best use of available data and produce more useful syntheses for decision makers. This workshop will cover structured summary, synthesis methods and visual display methods that can be used in these circumstances (sometimes referred to as “narrative synthesis”).
Objectives: • To illustrate the importance of planning for scenarios where meta-analysis is not possible through application in a practical example • To demonstrate the application of structured summary, other synthesis and visual display methods
Description: Based on guidance in Chapter 12 of version 6 of the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions, we will use a combination of presentations, interactive exercises and group work to cover the following topics. • Scenarios that may preclude meta-analysis • Other synthesis and presentation methods, along with their advantages and disadvantages and guidance on when to use which approach • Exploring extracted data to determine what other synthesis methods might be used if meta-analysis is not possible • Suggestions for what to write in the protocol, the methods section of the review, and how to describe the results of the synthesis Participants will work through examples that illustrate different approaches to structured summary and statistical synthesis of data.