“It’s A Grey Area”: searching the grey literature on how local governments use real-world data

Mark Clowes and Anthea Sutton, Information Specialists at the School of Health Related Research at the University of Sheffield, reflect on the challenges of finding grey literature for the NIHR-funded Unlocking Data project, led by Dr Matt Franklin funded by the NIHR Public Health Research (PHR) funding stream with in-kind support by our Health Economics, Evaluation and Equality theme.

With two decades of combined experience of literature searching in the context of systematic reviews, Mark and Anthea explain their usual practice when searching for information and how the Unlocking Data project required a different approach. In their latest blog, they describe how they conducted a mapping review of how local governments are accessing, linking and using real-world data. Grey literature is explained in terms of finding Local Authority case studies, along with the problems they encountered, the portals they used and the lessons learned, including:

  • Make a list of sources and/or topics you intend to cover before you start (and allow yourself enough time to work through them all)

  • Use gateways, portals, and existing collections and reviews where these exist - don’t reinvent the wheel

  • Use a standard data extraction form to collect the key info you need from each included study. This will help you to deal with long documents pragmatically by searching or skimming through the text for what you need; you don’t have time to read them in full.

  • This paper by Claire Stansfield et al (2016) was useful in planning our search approach and we’d recommend it to anyone embarking on a similar process.

Their blog can be read in more detail here: “It’s A Grey Area”: searching the grey literature on how local governments use real-world data.

Read more on the topic of real-world data from Dr Matt Franklin here: Unlocking real-world data promote and protect health and prevent ill-health in the Yorkshire and Humber region.