Background: Although prioritising topics for systematic reviews is recognised as being important to ensure relevance and to minimise research waste, there are no standardised methods, especially for non-guideline development bodies.
In 2017, we completed a project to prioritise a suite of proposals for Cochrane reviews in chronic otitis media (COM). COM is chronic inflammation of the middle ear with ear discharge through a tympanic-membrane perforation. Incidence is higher among children and people in lower- and middle-income countries, and from certain ethnic groups.
Objectives:To present a systematic and collaborative scoping process to identify the priority areas for Cochrane systematic reviews in COM.
Methods:The scoping process comprised four stages: 1) Understanding the global clinical context; 2) Identifying the existing synthesised evidence and identifying variation in practice; 3) Mapping current research evidence through searches of primary studies; and, 4) Engaging stakeholders globally in a formal consultation process.
Results: Stages 1-3 were essential to provide insight into issues around the condition and possible methodological challenges. On completion of these stages, a list of reviews was identified and 6 reviews were prioritised, but some uncertainties remained.
The stakeholder consultation helped confirm the proposed list, and highlighted that a seventh review was needed to address an area with wide variations of practice across different countries. Stakeholders were keen to be involved and responsive to the consultation process. Some required help with evaluation of factors for prioritisation.
Conclusions: A systematic scoping process is important to identify priorities for reviews relevant to patients and others involved in patient care. It increases the efficiency of the review process by identifying and resolving possible methodological issues at the pre-protocol stage. Adding global stakeholder consultation is invaluable to provide a broader global perspective and helps to resolve areas of uncertainties and identify priorities in areas less familiar to the core reviewing team.