Evidence mapping describes the quantity, design and characteristics of research in broad topic areas, in contrast to systematic reviews, which usually address narrowly-focused research questions. The breadth of evidence mapping helps to identify evidence gaps, and may guide future research efforts. The Global Evidence Mapping (GEM) Initiative was established in 2007 to create evidence maps providing an overview of existing research in Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Spinal Cord Injury (SCI).
The GEM evidence mapping method involved three core tasks:
1. Setting the boundaries and context of the map: Definitions for the fields of TBI and SCI were clarified, the prehospital, acute inhospital and rehabilitation phases of care were delineated and relevant stakeholders (patients, carers, clinicians, researchers and policymakers) who could contribute to the mapping were identified. Researchable clinical questions were developed through consultation with key stakeholders and a broad literature search.
2. Searching for and selection of relevant studies: Evidence search and selection involved development of specific search strategies, development of inclusion and exclusion criteria, searching of relevant databases and independent screening and selection by two researchers.
3. Reporting on yield and study characteristics: Data extraction was performed at two levels - 'interventions and study design' and 'detailed study characteristics'. The evidence map and commentary reflected the depth of data extraction.
One hundred and twenty-nine researchable clinical questions in TBI and SCI were identified. These questions were then prioritised into high (n = 60) and low (n = 69) importance by the stakeholders involved in question development. Since 2007, 58 263 abstracts have been screened, 3 731 full text articles have been reviewed and 1 644 relevant neurotrauma publications have been mapped, covering fifty-three high priority questions.
GEM Initiative evidence maps have a broad range of potential end-users including funding agencies, researchers and clinicians. Evidence mapping is at least as resource-intensive as systematic reviewing. The GEM Initiative has made advancements in evidence mapping, most notably in the area of question development and prioritisation. Evidence mapping complements other review methods for describing existing research, informing future research efforts, and addressing evidence gaps.