Quo Vadis Cochrane visualisation?

September 2016 will mark the first anniversary of this blog – yay! Without better ideas regarding what to post next and there being no need to beat back eager volunteers throwing manuscripts at me with a stick, I thought it was high time we look back at what we’ve achieved thus far and where we might be headed next.

In my first post I envisaged recruiting like-minded individuals to take a crack at putting together some Cochrane infographics. I believe we can safely agree that this goal has been reached most spectacularly. My own feeble doodles were followed first by thoughts by Jo Weldon from Cochrane Oral Health on things to consider when putting together an infographic and then the first professional-looking product published on this here blog was by Carlos Cuello from McMaster on probiotics to prevent enterocolitis in preterm babies.

Then Jo Anthony and Holly Millward from Cochrane Comms heaped on more advice about what tools to use and what bits to include with helpful links. Next I jumped in again with something a little different, a GIF animation I made together with our institute’s graphic designer (have you seen the improved version?) about blunt vs. sharp needles to prevent needle stick injuries in surgical staff. Then Helen West from Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth broke the bank with truly exquisite examples of well thought out infographics about turning babies to reduce problems at childbirth that incorporated the official colour scheme and everything. Wow. The bar was set pretty high but then Paul Beirne from University College in Cork went beyond the static image with an animated video (Needle size for vaccination procedures in children and adolescents) equipped with a snazzy soundtrack featuring himself playing the guitar! Crikey! So clearly we’ve amassed a troop of eager volunteers willing to explain their thoughts and the production process behind the imagery they created. First point thoroughly ticked.

Secondly I hoped there would be something to present in Vienna once I got this ball rolling. There was. I managed to coax our institute’s graphic designer to put together that very convincing GIF animation I mentioned earlier. I subjected many fellow cochranites to it in Vienna and many kindly retweeted when I shared it on social media. But then the actual infographics meeting we managed to organise at the Colloquium was all rather ad hoc and more of an occasion to affirm the need for infographics and that there were people keen to put some together without being forced, threatened or even financially incentivised. Nonetheless, I declare the second point ticked as well. Even if we didn’t get our own session at a CochraneTech symposium or David McCandless giving a talk. I suppose one can’t have too much of a good thing.

My third and most ambitious point was to design and conduct an experiment to see if all the effort to visualise Cochrane review results actually pays off in that the end result is easier to understand and recall than, say, the abstract or PLS. Of course it’s fun and interesting as it is to us visually inclined nerds getting our jollies just by making infographics because it’s interesting. However, I’m sure none us would argue against it being even better if we could also achieve actual benefits outside our little coven with its secret handshake. Any success in this department? None whatsoever. Maybe I put off Shaun Treweek by mentioning him by name. I don’t know. But I still think it’s a great idea. So that’s the only agenda point I will be pushing in Seoul. What’s more, I’ve scribbled an infographic of sorts to illustrate what I mean. OK, it’s actually a poster but this will have to do for now.

Infographics RCT

This is what I want to do. Actually I think it would be rather silly not to since here we have an intervention that we would hope would have tangible effects, if not directly as health improvements but indirectly as increased knowledge. Does it? We’re not sure. How do we find out? We’re scientists so we conduct an experiment. How about any other avenues of development? How can we keep going forward with Cochrane infographics?

Here is my humble vision. 1) Let’s put together a training webinar accompanied by a Handbook of sorts. Miranda Cumpston and friends from Cochrane Training can surely help. 2) Let’s rig up a funding mechanism by which sufficiently well fleshed out ideas could be outsourced to paid designers. I discussed this with Julie Wood in Vienna and she was generally positive about the CEU setting aside something like GBP 5000 per annum. But then we didn’t manage to put anything on paper. This of course begs the questions of what is well fleshed out and who decides? Maybe there’s enough material there for a another post.

Now though I shake off the office dust for a spot of well-earned holiday. Should this experiment idea tickle your fancy please get in touch after I ooze back to the bureau on August 8th.

Jani Ruotsalainen


4 thoughts on “Quo Vadis Cochrane visualisation?

  1. Hi Jani,

    An experiment would be possible but I wonder whether there are at least a couple of things to think about first. Firstly, for Cochrane I think it would be best to try and have an infographic design that was fairly standard so that they could easily be produced for all reviews. That needs some decisions about what information to prioritise and, as you say, the Vienna meeting didn’t reach any specific conclusions beyond agreement that infographics were worth pursuing.

    The other thing is that I’m not sure that an infographic is an alternative to, say, a podcast or a PLS. In other words they are not true alternatives. I see them more as a layered way of delivering information with, I think, the infographic likely to be the top layer. Those who want more can dig deeper. So I wonder whether we would want to a) make decisions about what we think should be in a Cochrane infographic b) do a bit of user-testing with a fairly small number of potential users of reviews to see what they make of the infographic and then c) do an experiment.

    For the experiment it might be good to remove some of the alternatives you present. I’m not sure I’d include abstract unless there is a real chance that we would ditch abstracts based on unfavourable results of the experiment, which I doubt. I wonder how PLS + infographic would work against PLS + podcast (podcasts did well in this study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4224648/) in terms of key messages. It would also be worth putting, say, PLS+podcast+infographic in front of people and just seeing what they spend time on/choose to look at. That could be done with real reviews over time and might be a way of targeting where effort should be put. If infographics are nearly always looked at, then it’s worth putting effort and resources into them to make them good. If few people use them then less resources could be devoted to them.

    Happy to talk more when you are back.


  2. Hi, I agree with Shaun on this and think this might be a great topic to ask the Comms Network about–what do they want to know about and how might be set this up to give us effective and actionable results. With that in mind, why don’t you attend the comms network meeting in Seoul where we can discuss this and think about other things we want to test in 2017. Shaun, it would be great if you will be in Seoul to attend this meeting as well. Looking forward to it.


  3. Thank you all most kindly for your comments. I agree with all of you. Yes it’s good to think thoroughly what to compare with what (I just drew some ideas from a hat). Yes I will be happy to attend the Comms Network meeting. And yes, Toby is still the one with his finger most firmly on the Cochrane pulse. How about we take Shaun’s bit as a starting point for another post?


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