Research Impact


Improving global public policy decision-making with optimised systematic reviews

A team at IOE has enhanced how systematic literature reviews are undertaken with new methodology, transforming policy-making in public health and global development.

Hepatitis C virus model, 3D illustration. A virus consists of a protein coat, capsid, surrounding RNA and outer lipoprotein envelope with two types of glycoprotein spikes, E1 and E2

12 April 2022

Systematic literature reviews provide a comprehensive and unbiased assessment of research evidence that can be used to design policy. Based at IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, the Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Coordinating Centre (EPPI-Centre) is a world-renowned centre with over 30 systematic review research specialists.

Together they have developed new methodologies to ensure that evidence reviews meet stakeholder needs and provide appropriate and actionable policy recommendations. 

The team has developed bespoke software such as ‘EPPI-reviewer’ to help reviewers from around the world to synthesise evidence quickly to meet policy timescales, and ‘EPPI-mapper’ to help navigate evidence maps.

These innovations improve both the quality and timeliness of reviews. The team’s work favours solution-focused approaches to policy problems which consider the complexities of the social world, exploring issues and solutions using a range of qualitative and quantitative methods.  

Changing lives across the world  

Since 2000, the EPPI-Centre has produced more than 50 commissioned reviews for the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the Department for International Development (now replaced by Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office), and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Together, these have brought about life-changing benefits in the UK and abroad.  
For example, in a review commissioned by DHSC the team showed that plain packaging makes tobacco appear less attractive and of lower quality and reduces confusion about tobacco harms. These findings led to the introduction in 2016 of standardised plain packaging on all tobacco products in the UK. Since then, the number of adult smokers in the UK has reduced by 2.5%, with fewer smoking-related deaths and an estimated net benefit to the government of £25 billion by 2026 because of plain packaging.  
Another review by EPPI-Centre researchers explored the quality-of-life impacts of Hepatitis C, demonstrating long-term impacts to mental and physical health. These findings were instrumental in the introduction of a 2016 compensation scheme for people accidentally infected with the disease through historical treatments. Latest figures show 535 people in England have registered to claim an extra £18,519 for long-term negative effects on their quality of life.  

Supporting international teams  

The team has guided novice review teams internationally to adopt its bespoke methods, training and software. Such support for a WHO-commissioned qualitative review of home-based care records, leading to a WHO recommendation for home-based health records to facilitate primary care visits and enhance healthcare for their families, particularly in remote, fragile settings with dynamic populations.

The evidence led the Afghanistan Ministry to develop and distribute a home-based record handbook to 16,086 pregnant women and children aged under 24 months across two pilot districts. The handbooks are now being rolled-out countrywide. 
Similar support led to a review demonstrating that investing in education and skills directly affects economic growth. This report helped to justify a UK government business case to invest £7.3 million in a skills for jobs programme in India that trained 30,038 would-be entrepreneurs and saw 155,449 people registering for apprenticeships within a year.  
Together, the EPPI-centre’s advances in responsive review methods have inspired life-changing policies and reframed conventional understanding of systematic reviewing itself.  

Research synopsis

Optimising systematic reviews for better policy making in public health and global development 

New methods developed at IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, to enhance how systematic literature reviews are undertaken, have improved global public policy decision-making. IOE’s Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Coordinating Centre (EPPI-Centre) innovative reviews have informed UK government policies including plain packaging for tobacco in the UK, and compensation for people who acquired Hepatitis C in UK hospitals, healthcare record keeping in Afghanistan and apprenticeship schemes in India. Training and guidance provided by the team strengthens global capacity to undertake reviews.  

Project team: Professor Sandy Oliver, Dr Katy Sutcliffe, Professor James Thomas, Professor David Gough