Knowledge synthesis is a term used to describe the method of synthesizing results from individual studies and interpreting these results within the context of global evidence. These methods can be used to understand inconsistencies across studies and identify gaps in the literature for future research endeavours. Knowledge translation focusing on the results of individual studies may be misleading due to bias in their methods or random variations in findings. As such, knowledge synthesis should be considered the base unit of knowledge translation.
Within health care, knowledge synthesis activities have focused on rigorous systematic review methods, such as those proposed by the Cochrane Collaboration.
The main components of a systematic review according to the Cochrane Collaboration include:
- “a clearly stated set of objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies;
- an explicit, reproducible methodology;
- a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that would meet the eligibility criteria;
- an assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies, for example through the assessment of risk of bias; and
- a systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies”.
The overarching steps of a systematic review include:
- Develop the review question using: Population of Interest, Intervention to Examine, Comparator(s), Outcome of Interest, Study Design, and Time Limitations (PICOST) criteria
- Develop a review protocol
- Plan a literature search
- Locate studies
- Select studies
- Assess risk of bias in included studies
- Abstract data
- Present results
- Interpret and discuss results
- Disseminate results