This session will be aimed at stakeholders with evidence needs (policy and practice decision makers), researchers with an interest in synthesis (reviewers), and research funders. Systematic mapping methods are of broad interest to a wide range of stakeholders because of their ability to answer different questions to those answered by systematic reviews: they focus more on what we know. This is particularly interesting to policy makers as they seek to find out whether existing or new policies can be based on evidence. Funders also benefit from knowing about evidence gaps that require further funding, or topics that have enough evidence to be systematically reviewed. Evidence synthesis researchers can learn much from mapping methods: potentially adding value to their systematic reviews as well as using mapping as an independent method. The facilitators and contributors described above will help to bring a broad group of interested researchers, decision makers and other stakeholders to the session, and it is hoped that the interactive nature of the session will allow a multilateral flow of knowledge and experience. The session assumes an existing knowledge of systematic reviews or associated evidence synthesis methods and is therefore set at an intermediate or advanced level.
Evidence mapping has been used to collate and describe bodies of research, particularly the study settings and methods used, without extracting or synthesising study findings. As these methods have developed, methodologists have attempted to visualise evidence in different ways to facilitate understanding and integration of synthesis results into decision making. This special session will involve six short presentations outlining different approaches to evidence mapping and visualising complex evidence bases along with stakeholder perspectives on mapping as an evidence synthesis product. Firstly, a systematic review of methods used in evidence mapping will be presented as a primer to the methodology. Systematic mapping will then be introduced as a method for summarising an evidence base in a transparent, repeatable and comprehensive way. Two stakeholders from UK and South African government departments will discuss their appreciation for evidence maps as synthesis products for use in decision making. Evidence gap maps will be summarised as a means of identifying gaps in currently synthesised knowledge of a topic, developed in the field of international development. Finally, recent developments in visualising synthesised evidence will be discussed, including evidence atlases and heat maps. Following these presentations there will be a time for participants to interact and discuss what evidence mapping means for them as researchers, as decision makers or as other types of stakeholders. In this breakout session, attendees will form small groups and be asked to consider benefits of mapping relative to systematic reviews and how evidence could be better visualised. A group discussion will then summarise these discussions. One of the key outputs of the special session will be a collated list of recommended developments that could improve future approaches to evidence mapping. Evidence mapping is an emerging method under continued development, and this session provides a valuable opportunity to learn and refine these methods based on in-depth discussion with a range of stakeholders.