Rephrasing and combining the submissions
It is important to note that the questions written for prioritisation are not written as research questions. They are researchable questions that capture the concerns and ideas of patients, carers and clinicians, but the process of turning them into refined, fundable research questions will happen after the prioritisation. Nevertheless, it is important that the questions are written in a clear and consistent style. Where possible, the JLA suggests that it can be helpful to re-write submissions using the PICO format, to include:
- the Patient or Population
- the Intervention
- a Comparator or Control
- an Outcome.
PICO is a helpful framework to aim for, but the JLA recognises that not all the PICO variables will necessarily be available. The two most difficult variables to identify are the comparator and outcome.
The JLA also recognises that not all submissions are suitable for PICO structure, especially if the PSP has a broad scope that includes a wide range of question types. PSPs should aim to ensure that the uncertainties are in a format that will ultimately be clear and of value to the research community.
Combining survey submissions is an interpretative and sensitive process. It is important that the Steering Group can explain why a single submission may be better presented within an indicative question, but that it also communicates that the detail of the original questions will be retained. Combining is a pragmatic way of managing large datasets. For example, multiple submissions about the effects of specific foods or drinks, e.g. fruit, coffee, tea, on a given condition may be combined into a theme of ‘diet’.
This process is more straightforward if submissions have been allocated to a category as outlined above. It is important to keep a record of the original submissions, so that their source (patient/carer, clinician, or both) and the frequency with which that particular uncertainty was submitted are documented. This detail can be discussed and taken into account at a later stage, when discussing the nature of the priorities with potential research funders.
It should be noted that patients, carers and clinicians, who are not researchers, do not usually formulate precise research questions. The JLA does not expect them to. Indicative questions capturing the themes and issues raised in the survey are more accessible to a non-research audience that needs to understand them in order to make priority setting decisions. To reiterate, the process of turning those themes into precise research questions is something the Steering Group is encouraged to work with funders and researchers on after the final workshop.