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Characteristics, utilization and influence of viewpoint articles from the Structured Operational Research and Training Initiative (SORT IT) – 2009-2020

Citation

Tayler-Smith, Katie (2020), Characteristics, utilization and influence of viewpoint articles from the Structured Operational Research and Training Initiative (SORT IT) – 2009-2020, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.fj6q573sk

Abstract

Background: The Structured Operational Research and Training Initiative (SORT IT) teaches the practical skills of conducting and publishing operational research (OR) to influence health policy and/or practice. In addition to original research articles, viewpoint articles are also produced and published as secondary outputs of SORT IT courses. We assessed the characteristics, use and influence of viewpoint articles derived from all SORT IT courses.

Methods: This was a cross-sectional study involving all published viewpoint articles derived from the SORT IT courses held between August 2009 and March 2020. Characteristics of these papers were sourced from the papers themselves and from SORT-IT members involved in writing the papers. Data on use were sourced from the metrics provided on the online publishing platforms and from Google Scholar. Influence on policy and practice was self-assessed by the authors of the papers and was performed only for papers deemed to be ‘calls for action’.

Results: A total of 41 viewpoint papers were published. Of these, 15 (37%) were ‘calls for action’. Thirty-one (76%) were published in open-access journals and the remaining 10 in delayed access journals. In 12 (29%) of the papers, first authors were from low and middle-income countries (LMICs). Twenty-two (54%) of the papers included female authors, but only four (10%) and two (5%) of first and last authors respectively, were female. Only seven (17%) papers had available data regarding online views and downloads. The median citation score for the papers was four (IQR 1-9). Of the 15 ‘call for action’ papers, six influenced OR capacity building, two influenced policy and practice, and three influenced both OR capacity building within SORT IT and policy and practice.

Conclusion: Viewpoint articles generated during SORT IT courses appear to complement original OR studies and are valued contributors to the dissemination of OR practices in LMICs.

 

Methods

Design

This was a cross-sectional study involving all published viewpoint articles derived from SORT IT courses conducted between August 2009 and March 2020. Given that journals, publishers and academic communities do not always use standardised terminology for perspective and opinion pieces, we have decided to use the term ‘viewpoint article’ in this study. It includes any publication outside the categories of original research or reviews that discusses a relevant topic from the perspective of the author(s). 

SORT IT courses and publications

Between August 2009 and March 2020, there were 86 SORT IT courses conducted in Asia, Africa, Europe, South Pacific, and Latin America. A full description of the SORT IT courses, including criteria for selection of participants, programme structure and milestones, mentorship and facilitators has been described previously.[1] In brief, a regular SORT-IT course consists of three one-week modules implemented over a period of 10 to 12 months. During Modules 1 and 2, participants develop research protocols and electronic data capture and analysis tools. Module 3 focuses on writing a manuscript for scientific publication.[10] Specific milestones must be achieved if participants are to proceed from one module to the next. A participant is considered to have successfully completed the course if they complete all milestones, including submission of a final manuscript to a peer-reviewed journal. Up until March 2020, almost all modules were residential, during which participants and facilitators would gather every day for five-six days. Diverse discussions related to global health issues and OR capacity building took place during the courses and these served as the driving force behind the viewpoint papers that originated from these SORT IT courses.

Data collection and analysis

Viewpoint articles were obtained from a dedicated database that contains all SORT IT publications. Information on the characteristics of the viewpoint papers were sourced from the papers themselves and through consultation with authors. Variables included type of paper (Call for action – papers requesting a change in policy or practice; Descriptive – papers describing an OR or public health related issue), number of authors, nationality, gender and institutional affiliation of the authors, and whether they were involved with work in LMIC.

Data pertaining to journal access (open, delayed or subscription-based access) were obtained from each journal’s website; data on a papers’ views and downloads were retrieved from metrics provided by the online publishing platform indexing the article; citation counts were ascertained by examining and cross-checking the citations listed (for each given paper) on the online publishing platform and also in Google Scholar. Final citation counts for each paper were obtained by counting the citations common to both lists, together with any citations found only on the online publishing platform and/or only in Google Scholar.

Influence on policy and practice was only assessed for papers deemed to be ‘calls for action’. Each paper was examined by a committee of its senior authors  (June 2020), allowing time for more recent call for action papers to potentially influence policy and practice (papers having been published between 2010 and 2019). A discussion took place about whether international / national guidelines were modified or changes in policy and/or practice were observed at international or national level as a result of the publication.

Data related to the study objectives were collected during June 2020.

Data were entered into Microsoft Excel. Frequencies and proportions were used to summarise categorical variables, and medians and interquartile ranges were used to report continuous variables.