Background: The synthesised results of research evidence can inform decision making at a practice and policy level. However, for such evidence synthesis to be considered during decision making, it needs to be accessible to decision makers and be relevant to their needs. User engagement in the process of conducting evidence syntheses is positioned to serve as but one tool that can increase the use of syntheses.
Objectives: This study compares the results of 3 different approaches to user engagement applied in recent evidence syntheses produced in collaboration between African decision makers in labour, housing and conservation policy contexts and researchers at an academic institution.
Methods: We conduct a comparative analysis of 3 different case studies of user engagement in evidence synthesis. We compare cases across a range of variables including: method of engagement; type of synthesis; adaptation of research process; policy narrative; and, observed use of the syntheses.
Results: Three cases of evidence synthesis user engagement are presented: (1) a supply-led systematic review of labour market participation interventions using evidence mapping and visualisation as engagement tools; (2) a series of 4 demand-led rapid evidence assessments of conservation interventions using evidence mapping, co-production, and joint workshops as engagement tools; and, (3) a demand-led evidence map of human settlements research produced in-house by a government department involving researchers as stakeholders. Mid-term results indicate that user engagement is an effective tool to enhance the policy relevance of evidence synthesis increasing the likelihood that synthesis results are considered during decision making. A strong policy narrative of how the synthesis can inform decision making and a high level of agency of decision makers supports use. Evidence mapping serves as an effective engagement tool at the beginning of the synthesis project. Methods of evidence synthesis require adaption the higher the degree of user engagement in the synthesis process.