The TRANSFER Approach for assessing the transferability of systematic review findings
Systematic reviews are a key input to health and social welfare decisions. Studies included in systematic reviews often vary with respect to contextual factors that may impact on how transferable review findings are to the review context. However, many review authors do not consider the transferability of review findings until the end of the review process, for example when assessing confidence in the evidence using GRADE or GRADE-CERQual. This paper describes the TRANSFER Approach, a novel approach for supporting collaboration between review authors and stakeholders from the beginning of the review process to systematically and transparently consider factors that may influence the transferability of systematic review findings.
We developed the TRANSFER Approach in three stages: (1) discussions with stakeholders to identify current practices and needs regarding the use of methods to consider transferability, (2) systematic search for and mapping of 25 existing checklists related to transferability, and (3) using the results of stage two to develop a structured conversation format which was applied in three systematic review processes.
None of the identified existing checklists related to transferability provided detailed guidance for review authors on how to assess transferability in systematic reviews, in collaboration with decision makers. The content analysis uncovered seven categories of factors to consider when discussing transferability. We used these to develop a structured conversation guide for discussing potential transferability factors with stakeholders at the beginning of the review process. In response to feedback and trial and error, the TRANSFER Approach has developed, expanding beyond the initial conversation guide, and is now made up of seven stages which are described in this article.
The TRANSFER Approach supports review authors in collaborating with decision makers to ensure an informed consideration, from the beginning of the review process, of the transferability of the review findings to the review context. Further testing of TRANSFER is needed.