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Systematic evidence maps as a novel tool to support evidence-based decision-making in chemicals policy and risk management

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published
Article number104871
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/09/2019
<mark>Journal</mark>Environment International
Volume130
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished
Early online date26/06/19
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Background
While systematic review (SR) methods are gaining traction as a method for providing a reliable summary of existing evidence for health risks posed by exposure to chemical substances, it is becoming clear that their value is restricted to a specific range of risk management scenarios - in particular, those which can be addressed with tightly focused questions and can accommodate the time and resource requirements of a systematic evidence synthesis.

Methods
The concept of a systematic evidence map (SEM) is defined and contrasted to the function and limitations of systematic review (SR) in the context of risk management decision-making. The potential for SEMs to facilitate evidence-based decision-making are explored using a hypothetical example in risk management priority-setting. The potential role of SEMs in reference to broader risk management workflows is characterised.

Results
SEMs are databases of systematically gathered research which characterise broad features of the evidence base. Although not intended to substitute for the evidence synthesis element of systematic reviews, SEMs provide a comprehensive, queryable summary of a large body of policy relevant research. They provide an evidence-based approach to characterising the extent of available evidence and support forward looking predictions or trendspotting in the chemical risk sciences. In particular, SEMs facilitate the identification of related bodies of decision critical chemical risk information which could be further analysed using SR methods, and highlight gaps in the evidence which could be addressed with additional primary studies to reduce uncertainties in decision-making.

Conclusions
SEMs have strong and growing potential as a high value tool in resource efficient use of existing research in chemical risk management. They can be used as a critical precursor to efficient deployment of high quality SR methods for characterising chemical health risks. Furthermore, SEMs have potential, at a large scale, to support the sort of evidence summarisation and surveillance methods which would greatly increase the resource efficiency, transparency and effectiveness of regulatory initiatives such as EU REACH and US TSCA.