Intended for healthcare professionals


The Campbell Collaboration

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 11 August 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:294

Does for public policy what Cochrane does for health

  1. Philip Davies (phil.davies{at}, director of policy evaluation,
  2. Robert Boruch (robertb{at}, university trustee chair professor of education
  1. Centre for Management and PolicyStudies, Cabinet Office, London SW1A 2WH
  2. Graduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6216, USA

    Evidence based practice has moved beyond the bounds of health care and is now central to public policymaking. In the United Kingdom attempts to modernise government13 emphasise the importance of using evidence of the effectiveness of interventions as part of a drive towards higher quality and “joined up” policymaking. Similar interest in evidence based public policy is apparent in other countries.

    This demand for more, and better, evidence on which to develop public policy requires new sources of valid, reliable, and relevant evidence. One of these sources is the Campbell Collaboration ( This is an international organisation, inspired by the Cochrane Collaboration, which seeks to help policymakers, practitioners, and the public make well informed decisions about policy interventions by preparing, maintaining, and disseminating systematic reviews of the effectiveness of social and behavioural interventions in education, crime and justice, and social welfare.

    Systematic reviews can be a valid and reliable means of avoiding the bias that comes from the fact that single studies are specific to a time, sample, and context and that their methods are often of questionable quality. Systematic reviews “attempt to discover the consistencies and account for the variability in similar appearing studies.”4

    The Campbell Collaboration seeks to raise the quality of evidence used in policymaking by establishing high standards of methods used in primary research and systematic reviews. Campbell systematic reviews focus firstly on randomised trials and secondly on high quality quasiexperimental research designs. They also consider studies that use qualitative research designs and are part of controlled evaluations. In this way, the Campbell Collaboration seeks to establish both summative evidence of “what works” in public policy, and formative evidence of how, why, and under what conditions policies work or fail to work.

    The collaboration has three subject groups. The education group covers studies of the effects of interventions at all stages of educational provision, including the education and development of professionals such as doctors and other healthcare practitioners. Topics currently being prepared for systematic review include school truancy, work related learning and transferable skills, peer assisted learning, second language training, and problem based learning for health professionals. The crime and justice group focuses on interventions aimed at juvenile and adult crime, prevention and control of civil and criminal offences, and the courts. Current interventions such as boot camps, behavioural programmes for offenders, electronic monitoring, hotspots policing, juvenile curfews, and neighbourhood watch programmes are subjects of Campbell reviews. Finally, the Campbell social welfare group is currently looking at the employment and training of populations at economic risk, housing and transportation, social services aimed at preventing child abuse, and the problems of minority populations.

    These three subject areas have clear relevance to healthcare providers, planners, and policymakers because improving education, reducing crime, and preventing abuse and neglect can all contribute to better health. To this end members of the Campbell Collaboration have worked with colleagues in the Cochrane Collaboration to produce evidence from systematic reviews of research relevant to implementing the “wider public health” agenda of the government's white paper Saving Lives: Our Healthier Nation ( Other projects that provide cross disciplinary evidence for policymaking will follow.

    At the heart of the Campbell Collaboration is its methods groups. Their task is to ensure that reviewers use rigorous methods of research synthesis and to improve the quality of primary research and research synthesis in the social and political sciences. Currently, there are three Campbell methods groups: one on experimental methods, another on quasiexperimental methods, and the third on process and qualitative methods. Additional methods groups will follow. A Centre for Research Synthesis Methods, responsible for coordinating the methods activities of the collaboration, is soon to be established at the University of Missouri in the United States. The communications and dissemination group is the fourth core element of the collaboration, in addition to the international steering committee. This group provides guidance on, and strategic planning for, the dissemination work of the collaboration.

    The Campbell Collaboration is an international organisation. Its membership is drawn from 15 countries, with growing interest being shown in developing countries. The Nordic countries are well represented and are among its most active participants. The Danish Ministry of Social Affairs has allocated resources for a Nordic Campbell Centre in Copenhagen, and is negotiating with the Nordic Council of Ministers to secure the involvement of other countries. This will give the Collaboration a European base for training members in systematic review methods and other aspects of research synthesis, as well as a centre for undertaking and disseminating high quality systematic reviews on public policy issues. Funding for the Campbell Collaboration also comes from major research foundations, research charities, private philanthropists, and government sources.

    The Campbell Collaboration is a young organisation, founded in 1999. It works closely with other organisations throughout the world that promote evidence based policymaking. The collaboration does not make policy, nor does it proselytise, advise, or work as a pressure group. Its mission is to provide high quality, sound evidence for policymakers, practitioners, and the public to make well informed decisions about public policy.


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