Breaking Down The Silos – Global Evidence Summit 2017

I’m currently in Cape Town for the Global Evidence Summit; no doubt there will be a few blog posts over the coming days/weeks about what I’m up to over here, what I’m learning, and what it’s like to travel so far from home as part of my PhD. I wanted to write this post whilst it’s fresh in my mind – so it’s a little more research focussed than the exciting travel pictures I hope to bring you soon!

One of the main reasons I wanted to come to the Global Evidence Summit was for one of the themed days. Each of the conference days starts with a plenary, and then there are threaded sessions that allow you to explore a subject in more depth throughout the rest of the day. After a bit of a nightmare with flight delays and missed connections, I missed the first day of the conference. The second day was always going to be my highlight though; day 2 focussed on the ‘Evidence Ecosystem’ and ensuring that we improve the way the entire ecosystem of evidence generation works together, to ensure that evidence can lead to improved patient care.

The plenary session was absolutely brilliant, and certainly did not disappoint.

BREAKING DOWN THE SILOS: Digital and trustworthy evidence ecosystem

This plenary will set out to understand how explicit links between actors are needed – and now possible – to close the loop between new evidence and improved care, through a culture for sharing evidence combined with advances in methods and technology/platforms for digitally structured data.

The session featured talks from Chris Mavergames, Karen Barnes, Greg Ogrinc and Jonathan Sharples, and gave a really brilliant overview of what the evidence ecosystem is, the actors within it, and how it all links together. The cycle below gives you an idea of what I’m talking about (image taken from the MAGIC Project website).

My work, which focusses on improving the efficiency of clinical trials, fits into the ‘Produce evidence’ section at 9 o’clock on the cycle above. As passionate as I am about improving the production of primary research evidence – it is of absolutely no use whatsoever if the rest of the ecosystem doesn’t function properly. So, we need to improve the way we generate primary research evidence, but then ensure that that evidence is synthesised and reviewed effectively and efficiently too. In turn, that information can then be disseminated to clinicians, then to patients, the evidence can be implemented, and then we evaluate it and use it to improve practice. The cycle then begins again.

This plenary session then led to threaded sessions throughout the rest of the day – the first of which I was given the opportunity to co-chair. This was my first experience of co-chairing anything, so I was a bit nervous, but mainly really excited to listen to the speakers’ presentations and then be able to take part in the discussion that followed.

Threaded session 1 of Thursday was titled ‘The inefficiency of isolation: Why evidence providers and evidence synthesisers can break out of their silos’, and focussed on the journey from producing evidence to synthesising evidence.

The 4 talks in this session were:

  1. The problems of poor and siloed primary research – a funder’s view (Matt Westmore).
  2. New ways to access primary research data (Ida Sim).
  3. Data journeys from studies to accelerated evidence synthesis (Anna Noel-Storr).
  4. Connecting primary research and synthesis in education – experiences of operating in a linked system (Jonathan Sharples)

Honestly, these talked linked together really beautifully, and gave me lots to think about in terms of what I can be doing to try and make sure that my research is slotting into the wider evidence ecosystem in a more cohesive way.

Matt gave a funder’s perspective on the problem of disconnected research, and explained what the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in the UK are doing to combat these problems. He also gave Trial Forge a shout out too which is always welcome!

Ida’s talk showcased Vivli and explained why it’s so important to share clinical trial meta-data to ensure that we’re not duplicating effort. I’d never heard of Vivli before I’d started doing research into the speakers on the panel, so this was a really interesting session.

Anna gave a fantastic talk on the journey that data takes from studies all the way through to evidence syntheses – the image below shows a slide that she used to explain what evidence sysnthesis is used for, I thought it was a really good way to communicate the concept so I’ve included it here.

Anna is also heavily involved with Cochrane Crowd – a platform that allows volunteers to help to categorise evidence to ensure that evidence syntheses are more efficient. It’s a brilliant platform and one that I’ve contributed to, and with continue to contribute to (probably when I have more time post-PhD though!).

Jonathan then impressed us all with his experience of doing research in the UK education sector. Education is clearly an entirely different beast than healthcare is, but the work that Jonathan and the rest of the team at the Education Endowment Foundation have done really is astounding. I think there’ll be lots of healthcare researchers dissecting the work they’ve done in an effort to try and translate some of their successes into the world of evidence-based healthcare.

I’m not going to go into detail about the rest of the threaded sessions because I’ll be here all day, but as expected they were great. The way that this conference has covered different topics and themes has been so useful, but also totally overwhelming – there is just so much going on! If you’d like to know more about the other threaded sessions, and the Global Evidence Summit as a whole, take a look here.