Question prioritization process

Since mid-March 2020, Cochrane has been gathering some of the most important questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic from health researchers, clinicians, policymakers, patients and carers, as well as important external stakeholders including the World Health Organization (WHO), the UK National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and guideline developers from different countries. Cochrane experts reviewed these questions in collaboration with health and policy decision-makers, resulting in Cochrane’s Question Bank, a resource that was made available to the global research community.

Nearly 300 questions were submitted, categorized and tagged to allow prioritization to take place with topic experts, Cochrane Groups and stakeholders. The process considered whether the review would address an urgent clinical or policy decision, whether there was overlap or duplication with other submitted questions, whether related Cochrane or non-Cochrane Reviews were already published or underway, and the suitability for Cochrane Rapid Review methods. Based on these criteria, many questions were moved from the Bank into an archive list and the now renamed ‘Review Bank’ holds only:

  • Questions identified as the highest priorities which Cochrane has committed to supporting, keeping up to date, and fast-tracking for publication (see diagram);
  • Questions that fall within the Priority Areas and have not yet been addressed, for which high-quality submissions will be considered for fast-tracking;
  • Reviews being pursued as COVID priorities within a particular clinical area by Cochrane Review Groups.

Cochrane continues to work closely with partners in evidence based-medicine to prevent duplication, but the Review Bank will no longer be maintained with details of reviews being conducted outside of Cochrane. A list of known systematic and rapid review registries is available on the resources page.

Cochrane’s Priority Areas

Cochrane’s Editor-in-Chief, Karla Soares-Weiser, and Cochrane’s COVID-19 Working Group used results of prioritization and the categorization within the Review Bank to define Cochrane’s priority areas of work for the next phase of its response to the pandemic. The questions and issues to be addressed by Cochrane during 2020 were aligned with the taxonomy of the ‘COVID-19 Evidence Network to support Decision-making’ (COVID-END), of which Cochrane is a leading member. Priority questions to be addressed by Cochrane evidence cover:

  • Clinical management: including questions related to screening and testing, drug treatment, critical care, prophylaxis, prognosis and the clinical management of pandemic related impacts on health
  • Public health measures: including questions related to the prevention of infection, personal protection and the need to support healthcare workers; and
  • Economic and social responses: including questions related to the social determinants of health and their impact on health outcomes, and the impact of COVID-19 on food poverty.

View a more detailed diagram setting out these priority questions

Each of Cochrane’s priority areas are being addressed through a range of planned outputs including Cochrane Rapid Reviews, new Cochrane ‘living’ Systematic Reviews and Network Meta-Analyses, all led by different consortia of Cochrane authors, Groups and Cochrane’s Central Editorial Team. The Cochrane Review Bank will be updated periodically to help decision-makers review progress and activity; and highlight new questions and topics to be addressed in future. 

Cochrane has defined transparent editorial processes to consider the quality, feasibility and priority of submissions that fall within these priority areas but fast-track editorial and methods support will only be guaranteed for the Highest Priority Reviews (see information for authors).

Highest Priority Reviews

Cochrane Priority Questions have been identified within the priority areas which Cochrane is actively pursuing with author teams, providing additional support, fast-tracking for publication, and committing to keep up to date. The list of Cochrane Priority Questions can be viewed or downloaded in the diagram above. Some of these reviews have already been published, others are in preparation, and a few are open for experienced author teams. Questions that have not yet been addressed are likely to require scoping and careful consideration with topic experts to define a PICO (population, intervention, comparator and outcomes) that is focused on decision-making.