Evidence-Based Practices: What We Do

Step 2: Research Syntheses

What is a Practice-Based Research Synthesis?

A practice-based research synthesis involves systematic analysis and integration of small bodies of research that have focused on the same or similar practices and that lead to the same or similar outcomes. We seek to include relevant research studies in which the practice characteristics and processes that influence positive changes in behavior are clearly described. Our syntheses are called Bridges, to highlight our efforts to narrow the research-to-practice gap.

How is it Done?

The process involved in developing a research synthesis is similar to that of putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The first step in working on a puzzle is to gather all the pieces and sort them according to color or shape. In the same way, we gather all relevant studies available using a variety of sources such as electronic databases, journals, conference reports, research registers, and the recommendations of topic experts. We then sort them according to similarities in practices and outcomes.

The next step in completing the puzzle is to look carefully at the individual pieces in each group, attending to color variations and edges that may fit together to form a larger section. In a similar fashion, we analyze the studies we have grouped, providing special attention to the descriptions of the practice characteristics and outcomes.

At this point we may find a few pieces of the puzzle that are torn or may even belong to another puzzle. At times we find that a study may not meet our inclusion criteria. When this is the case, the study is excluded.

The puzzle now begins to take shape as the pieces fit together. Studies with similar practices and outcomes are integrated to determine what relationships exist between them, and the extent to which evidence across studies supports or refutes the use of the practice.

Just as all of the sections of the puzzle are eventually joined to form the whole puzzle, so the various groups of studies are woven together to provide a "big picture" regarding the research evidence for a specific practice.

External reviewers examine our research syntheses to ensure that we have done the best job possible. Specifically, reviewers determine if we have included relevant studies, if we have applied our inclusion/exclusion criteria objectively, and if the characteristics identified as the key features of a particular practice are supported by the evidence presented in the synthesis. In addition, reviews from parents and practitioners address issues of clarity, consistency, cultural sensitivity, and language comprehension.