End user testing of an open-access database of research syntheses: the Environmental Evidence Database of Research Syntheses

Lead Research Organisation: Bangor University
Department Name: Sch of Environment and Natural Resources


For any business, making decisions on the best course of action should be informed by the best available evidence. The UK business sector is asked to integrate issues of sustainability and environmental impact into their decision-making as part of a transition to a greener economy (http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/economy). In current circumstances this is inhibited by the absence of a shared and reliable evidence base from which to draw decision-making support and develop consensus on best practice. In a competitive world it will be important for business decisions to be based on a reliable evidence-base characterized by rigour in assembly , transparency and objectivity. Most importantly the evidence base will need to be synthetic and inclusive of all available primary research related to a question relevant to evidence needs of the decision makers. In environmental management, the evidence base supporting policy decisions is incipient and syntheses of the best available evidence are not readily available. This project will develop and test an open-access database of research syntheses (evidence syntheses). The database will list syntheses conducted to assess evidence on a specific question of policy or practical relevance in environmental management. The database will provide information on the reliability and transparency of the syntheses, tailored to the needs of decision makers/end users in government, non-government and private sectors. We will work with a group of end users and pilot the database format by identifying a subject area that represents an example of their evidence needs. Existing research syntheses will then be identified and critically appraised for their reliability as a source of the best available evidence. The web-based product will be presented to the end-user group for their feedback and modifications made in preparation for expansion from a pilot to a fully functional system.

Planned Impact

Direct beneficiaries from this work include;

Industrial and commercial business in the seafood sector
Governmental organisations with a responsibility for marine resources policy
Non-governmental organisations with an interest in marine natural resources

The above will benefit from better access to the best available evidence to support their decision making.

Indirect beneficiaries include all organisations (business, commercial, governmental, non-governmental, charities) with a need to make evidence-based decisions concerning environmental management. An expanded version of the database will have the potential to support decision making in local to global contexts. The database will be open access and will also benefit the wider public by providing access to high quality evidence with which to assess the conduct of organisations in relation to environmental responsibilities.

Nature of Benefit is;

Direct access to a database of research syntheses with independent assessments of quality.
Greater capacity make evidence-based decisions and therefore increased effectiveness in a business and policy context.
Greater capacity of organisations to make environmentally responsible decisions.
Greater capacity of third parties to judge decisions of organisation with respect to environmental responsibilities.

Given that many research syntheses already exist the timescale to initial potential benefit is very short (potentially months). The full potential of such a database could be realised within 5 years given appropriate funding.

Staff involved in the project, from both Bangor and the end-user organisations will develop skills in critical appraisal of the quality of evidence and its integration into the decision making process. Researchers will learn new skills from end users in terms of developing their evidence needs in a commercial context. End users will learn new skills in terms of critical interpretation of scientific evidence.
Description A survey of reviews of evidence in environmental management demonstrates that there is wide variation in the review methodology employed. There is important variation in reporting and transparency and in susceptibility to bias. Using systematic review methodology as a gold standard many peer-reviewed and published syntheses are not fit for purpose and may fail to objectively inform decision making. A check list of methodological quality has been trialled that provides quality rating for reviews so that decision makers are given a simple score of a review's reliability. Methodology is now in place to establish an open-access database of reviews and syntheses that are quality appraised for their reliability for informing decision making.
Exploitation Route The database of research syntheses is designed for use by decision makers outside of academia. The project has been run in collaboration with representatives of the food retailing industry. The quality rating can be applied to a wide range of reviews and evidence syntheses in environmental management. The outcomes will form a database of research syntheses, regularly updated as new publications become available, and designed to inform decision makers in the public and private sector.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Energy,Environment,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Retail,Transport

URL http://www.environmentalevidence.org/review-appraisals
Description The findings of the study were examined by the user group from the seafood retailing industry. We held a workshop at Billingsgate market to explain the proposed database and the feedback was positive.
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Retail
Impact Types Cultural,Economic

Description The Collaboration for Environmental Evidence Database of Evidence Reviews is in development. It will provide a database to inform decision makers of the latest reviews that have been published in environmental management together with the reliability with which they have been conducted. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact None to date 
URL http://www.environmentalevidence.org/review-appraisals
Description Stakeholder Meeting 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Held at Billingsgate Fish Market, London - 6th November 2013.

Presentation informed the user/stakeholder group of the findings of the project and proposed the next steps toward providing a full service to decision makers in their industry.

A plan to provide the database to users has been agreed with the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence. Engagement continues with the users over the funding model.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
URL http://www.environmentalevidence.org/review-appraisals