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Published in PLOS, the new guideline will help the scientific community to write complete and transparent research reports involving consensus methods.

Lots of different coloured hands on a wooden table

Clinical recommendations, policy decisions and priority-setting need to be grounded in evidence from research. However, often this evidence is in a newly emerging field, and the study results are inconsistent, absent, or conflicting, so researchers turn to consensus methods to help make health decisions. Consensus methods involve seeking the perspectives, opinions or votes gathered from groups of people who have expertise or lived experience of a condition or disease, with the goal to making a majority decision.

Despite their critical role in healthcare and policy decision-making, consensus methods are often poorly reported, with problems arising around inconsistency, lack of transparency, and no description of participant selection or level of anonymity.

Researchers from the UK EQUATOR Centre at NDORMS were involved in the development of the new ACCORD (ACcurate COnsensus Reporting Document) guideline offering a new best practice framework to improve the reporting of research involving consensus methods.

Patricia Logullo, EQUATOR Postdoctoral Meta-Researcher at NDORMS explained: 'The people who are invited to participate in consensus research and how these initiatives are conducted can make a lot of difference in the final result and the decisions made. For example, if we need to decide about a condition that affects only women researchers should include women on the panel. Or, for topics that require participants to express themselves freely, it is important to know whether anonymity was maintained. However, the absence of a universal reporting guideline for studies using consensus methods has led to sub-optimal reporting. We designed ACCORD to fulfil this gap.'

The ACCORD guideline is a checklist of 35 items authors should report that will enable readers to understand the methods used, to interpret the results critically, and to apply them appropriately. Published in PLOS Med ACCORD, it is now available in an open-access statement article.

ACCORD was developed to be the first to be applicable across all consensus methodologies — not only the most widely known and used, Delphi. The UK EQUATOR Centre was involved in the development; Patricia Logullo, based in the University of Oxford, is part of the ACCORD Steering Committee that developed the tool and will lead the future updates. The initiative was supported and endorsed by ISMPP (International Society for Medical Publication Professionals).

ACCORD developers expect the checklist to help scientists, medical writers, and editors to publish complete health research reports of projects involving consensus. For that, the first step is to raise awareness of this easy-to-use tool: Patricia Logullo said, "We hope to see journal editors and publishers including or signposting ACCORD in their instructions for authors, and publication professionals using it when writing up Delphi and other consensus-based approaches."

To further help implementation, another document will be published soon: the "explanation and elaboration" (E&E) document, led by Patricia. This will provide a detailed explanation of why it is so important to report each item of the ACCORD checklist. It will also provide real examples of how reporting the pieces of information is possible. 'We will show how easy it is to write a complete report and give alternatives to bypass the word count limits imposed by journals,' explained Patricia. The E&E is also under review by PLOS Med.

Hear Patricia discuss the ACCORD guideline with Christopher Winchester, CEO of Oxford PharmaGenesis, who is also on the ACCORD Steering Committee.