Background: Before systematic reviews became integral to research and practice, researchers often worked alone on single projects in academic institutions. With increasing numbers of staff involved in evidence synthesis, we believed there would be sufficient benefit and interest in developing a network of northwest researchers involved in evidence synthesis enabling collaboration and sharing of information and resources.
Objectives: To establish and evaluate a research network for evidence synthesis in northwest England.
Methods: A launch meeting of the Manchester ‘Evidence Synthesis Network’ (ESN) was held on 1 April 2011. National experts were chosen as keynote speakers to draw attention to the network and attract members. A steering committee was established and, based on feedback from delegates, a series of regular workshops were held in subsequent years. A member survey was undertaken to assess impact of the network on individuals, teams and institutions.
Results: After 6 years, the ESN has almost 200 members from across the northwest and beyond and has run 19 workshops on a range of subjects including GRADE, literature searching, qualitative evidence, mixed methods, diagnostic accuracy tests, realist synthesis, health economics, text mining and public/patient involvement. 57% of survey respondents claimed that workshops met their expectations and 52% indicated that the content was relevant to their work. Members felt they benefited from general education and updating as well as the opportunity to meet other researchers and talk about shared interests.
Conclusions: The ESN has continually attracted a broad range of new and experienced researchers, in evidence synthesis from different settings/organisations. Feedback from members has been positive and both personal and institutional benefits have resulted. Reasons for success of the network include use of existing infrastructure for networks/logistics, a keen and engaged Steering Committee, and membership from a range of different research backgrounds and seniority. Based on our example, other groups are setting up similar networks.