Producing knowledge together: a participatory approach to synthesising research across a large-scale collaboration in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health

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Health Research Policy and Systems


Background: Despite that stakeholder participation in evidence synthesis could result in more useful outcomes, there are few examples of processes that actively involve them in synthesis work. Techniques are needed that engage diverse stakeholders as equal partners in knowledge co-production. The aims of this paper are to describe an innovative participatory process of synthesising a large body of academic research products and compare the findings of the participatory process against two traditional approaches to synthesis: a rapid review and a structured review. Methods: First, a rapid synthesis of all research outputs (n = 86) was conducted by researchers with in-depth knowledge of the collaboration’s research. Second, a team of researchers and service providers conducted a structured synthesis of seventy-eight peer-reviewed articles and reports generated by the collaboration. Fifty-five publications were brought forward for further synthesis in part three, a facilitated participatory synthesis. Finally, we explored the value added by the participatory method by comparing findings generated across the three synthesis approaches. Results: Twelve researchers and 11 service providers/policy partners—8 self-identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander—participated in two facilitated workshops (totalling 4 h). Workshop activities engaged participants in reviewing publication summaries, identifying key findings, and evoked review, discussion and refinement. The process explicitly linked experiential knowledge to citations of academic research, clearly connecting the two knowledge types. In comparing the findings generated across all three methods we found mostly consistencies; the few discrepancies did not contradict but gave deeper insights into statements created by the other methods. The participatory synthesis generated the most, detailed, and unique findings, and contextual insights about the relevance of the key messages for practice. Conclusion: The participatory synthesis engaged stakeholders with diverse backgrounds and skillsets in synthesising a large body of evidence in a relatively short time. The participatory approach produced findings comparable to traditional synthesis methods while extending knowledge and identifying lessons most relevant for the participants who, ultimately, are the end users of the research. This process will interest other large-scale research collaborations seeking to engage stakeholders in evidence synthesis.

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National Health and Medical Research Council



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