Scientific evidence synthesis and policy implementation for environmental sciences

Location: University of East Anglia

Course delivery:  TBA

Eligibility for placements

Students intending to take this course or students who have done one of the previous UEA ATRC courses on Systematic review and Meta-analysis for Environmental Sciences can apply for placements.



Programme aims and content:

The proposed training initiative consists of a 5-day course and (optional) 2-week placements in one of the three stakeholder organisations: Cefas, Natural England and Forestry Commission. The stakeholder organisations are fully integrated into the development and delivery of the proposed training by teaching a new course module on translating scientific evidence into policy (Cefas), identifying priority topics for evidence synthesis which will be used for systematic review and meta-analysis exercises during the course, and providing 22 placements on the above topics.

The 5-day course seeks to promote and facilitate the thoughtful and critical use of systematic reviews and meta-analysis for research synthesis in environmental sciences with specific focus on policy relevance. The course will involve combination of lectures and practical sessions where participants will practice conducting meta-analysis using worked examples in metafor package in R. In addition, participants will conduct their own mini-meta-analyses by working in small groups on an assigned environmental topic and present their results to the class.

Course dates and venue

The course will be run on January 8-12, 2018 at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Norwich is only a short train journey from London and Cambridge.  There's also a great deal of history within Norwich, and the city boasts over 30 medieval churches, two cathedrals, theatres, art galleries, museums, and a Norman castle. The campus is only a short drive from the city centre, but is surrounded by parkland with a beautiful lake and lots of wildlife. It also hosts The Sainsbury Centre, an inspirational public art museum. The students will also visit Lowestoft, a short train ride from Norwich to attend Cefas-based training on day 4.

Course lecturers:

Elena Kulinskaya is Professor, Aviva Chair in Statistics at University of East Anglia. Statistical methods for meta-analysis and research synthesis have been one of her main research interests for the last 10 years. She has authored a book on meta-analysis (Wiley, 2008) and a large number of research papers on methodology of meta-analysis. She has also worked, as a part of a team, on a number of highly cited systematic reviews. Prof. Kulinskaya is the organiser of Quantitative Synthesis Methods Group in the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence (CEE).

Julia Koricheva is Professor of Ecology at Royal Holloway University of London. She is interested in applications of meta-analysis in ecology and has published 8 meta-analyses on topics ranging from impacts of climate change to forest management as well as methodological papers on publication and related biases in meta-analysis. She has recently co-edited “Handbook of meta-analysis in ecology and evolution” (2013, Princeton Univ. Press), which will be used as a textbook for the proposed course.

Gillian Petrokofsky (University of Oxford) is a Research Fellow with expertise in systematic reviews. She has established the Evidence-based Forestry initiative to introduce systematic review methods to forestry and has published 17 protocols and evidence reviews from this initiative to date. She runs regular training courses on systematic reviews (e.g. in partnership with the International Union of Forest Research Organisations). She is a member of the Guidelines Group in CEE which develops guidelines on conducting evidence syntheses.

John Pinnegar is Director of the Cefas-UEA Collaborative Centre for Sustainable Use of the Seas (CCSUS). He is Principle Scientist and lead advisor on marine climate change at Cefas, with twenty years experience working in marine and freshwater ecosystems around the world. John has in-depth knowledge and practical experience in the assessment and modelling of fisheries, ecosystems and food-webs. John will contribute to the Cefas training day and host student placements.

Julie Bremner is the CCSUS lead for energy and food security. She is a principal marine ecologist at Cefas, with over 10 years of experience in research on marine ecosystem functioning, anthropogenic impacts on aquatic systems and scientific advice to governments and industry. Julie will oversee the Cefas training day and host student placements.

The programme of the course

Day 1/Module 1: Introduction to systematic reviews (Dr Petrokofsky)

Morning - Lectures and interactive sessions on question formulation, stakeholder consultation, protocol development, literature scoping, search strategy development.

Afternoon - Practical sessions on article screening, coding, study critical appraisal and risk of bias assessment. Students formulate specific questions for research synthesis based on priority topics identified by stakeholder organisations (Cefas and NE)

Day 2/Module 2: Statistically combining effect sizes in a meta-analysis (Kulinskaya & Koricheva)
Morning - Lectures on types of effect sizes and their calculation and combining effect sizes across studies; Practical on calculation of effect sizes and combining them across studies in fixed and random effects models using metafor package in R.

Afternoon – Students start to work on mini-meta-analysis projects in pairs (formulate questions, choose effect size measure, design data spreadsheet, and extract data).  

Day 3/Module 3: Exploring heterogeneity and dealing with biases (Kulinskaya & Koricheva)

Morning - Lectures on exploring the causes of heterogeneity in effect sizes by meta-regression and dealing with publication and related biases in meta-analysis; Practical on meta-regression and testing for biases with metafor package in R

Afternoon – Continuing work in pairs on mini-meta-analyses projects (calculating mean effect sizes and running meta-regression analyses)

Day 4/Module 4: Turning evidence into scientific advice and policy (Cefas).
Morning – Lectures on how to turn scientific evidence into advice and environmental policy

Afternoon - a practical session in which students will be given a set of scientific evidence and tasked with translating it into policy advice. Policy areas covered will include fisheries, marine protected areas, climate change, industrial developments, noise and pollutants.

Day 5/Module 5: Interpreting and reporting the results of meta-analysis (Kulinskaya/ Koricheva)
Morning - Lectures on avoiding non-independence (including phylogenetic dependencies), dealing with missing data and variable research quality and format of meta-analytic report

Afternoon – Students complete their mini-meta-analysis projects and present their results.

Prerequisites: Participants should have some familiarity with using R. 

Computer Requirements: Participants should bring a personal laptop; R software and metafor package should be preloaded.

Placement Topics

The stakeholder organisations involved in the training initiative through development and delivering course teaching and offering the placements for the course participants are Cefas, Natural England and Forestry Commission. Cefas is an executive agency of Defra which collects, manages and interprets data on the aquatic environment, biodiversity and fisheries. NE is a government’s adviser on protection of England’s nature, landscapes and the services they provide. Forestry Commission is a government department responsible for forestry in England and Scotland.

Stakeholder organisations are offering 22 placements for the participants of the course (10 in Cefas, 8 in NE, 4 in FC). Topics of the placements will be focused on priority questions identified by stakeholders, placement allocation will be based on the expression of interest by the participants in the particular topic and their previous experience of work in this area. Participants will be allocated to placements in pairs, with 2 people working on evidence synthesis of the same topic.

Funding and registration
There are 25 places fully funded by NERC available on this course, and 22 placements. These funded positions will cover travel (within UK), accommodation, full-board and course materials during the course, and travel, accommodation and expenses during placements. Places on the programme will be allocated preferentially to NERC-funded PhD students and early career researchers (e.g. postdocs) in environmental sciences on a first come, first served basis. Other applicants will be placed on a waiting list and any funded positions left unfilled by priority candidates will be allocated at the discretion of course organisers.