Sexual and reproductive health

Using qualitative research to strengthen guideline development

8 August 2019 ¦ Although you may not be aware of it, it is highly likely that, at some point in your life, you have benefited from a guideline developed by the World Health Organization (WHO). That’s because when countries, external partners or other stakeholders need guidance on clinical or public health problems or policies, they turn to WHO for guidance.

An observation sometimes made about these guidelines, however, is that guideline users and those affected by their recommendations are not consulted during the guideline development phase. Without transparency as to how decisions on recommendations are made and what evidence and knowledge informs the recommendations, the validity and transferability of the guidelines to a range of contexts, cultures, and individuals may be limited.

In a drive to include perspectives from end users and health care providers, WHO recently developed three manuscripts to look at how to incorporate qualitative data into guideline development methods. Qualitative research explores people’s needs, values, perceptions and their experiences of the world around them. This includes their health or illness, healthcare services, and more broadly, social systems and their policies and processes. Qualitative data have been included in some recent WHO guidelines by using qualitative evidence syntheses (QES), some of which have been published in the Cochrane Library.

Examples of Qualitative evidence syntheses

About the mini series

Qualitative evidence is crucial to improve the understanding on how, and whether, people perceive health interventions to be effective and acceptable. It is also essential to understand the factors influencing the implementation of health policies and interventions. The role of qualitative evidence is to:

  • inform guideline scope and develop qualitative finding statements;
  • inform evidence-to-decision frameworks and recommendations; and
  • develop implementation considerations and inform implementation processes, respectively.

The papers contain empirical examples and lessons learnt. Knowledge gaps for further research and practice were also included.