By ACE team

We all regularly have questions that come up in our everyday lives that we don’t necessarily have answers for, such as should you vaccinate your baby, does school homework really enhance your children’s learning, how can you eat healthier, why should you recycle waste, or does using less water really make a difference? Where do you go to look for the answers to such questions? Outside of the opinions of your granny, mom and friends, most of us are likely to go on the Internet to search for answers.

But we live in an era of information overload, where there is so much – many times contradictory – information available. To top it off, when searching, you’ll come across a lot of fake news, unverified information, and opinions rather than facts, to name but a few. How do you know what to believe? What is trustworthy evidence? And even though there are likely reliable answers from science to such questions, how do we know where to find this information, and how to make sense of hundreds of individual studies with ambiguous and conflicting findings?


In this blog series, we want to shed light on a range of specific questions an individual citizen may have, by using the best available research evidence we could find and review in a limited time period of two hours. We write the series from the perspective of an evidence-informed citizen trying to answer current questions that affect individuals. We hope to take the reader through the process of where to look for research evidence, how to decide what evidence is reliable, and how to apply it to our South African and African contexts. We are not aiming to take up a position on an issue or give a definitive answer to a question, but rather to reflect on what evidence we found in a limited search and how to judge whether it is reliable and appropriate.

We will rely heavily on research evidence synthesis products, rather than a single or a few single studies. We interpret Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie’s warning about the danger of a single story as the danger of a single study. Evidence synthesis products (such as systematic reviews, meta-analyses, narrative syntheses, and evidence maps) allow one to find in a few places transparent, repeatable, reliable research evidence. Evidence synthesis questions can be then about the effectiveness of an intervention, about its feasibility in a particular context, how it fits a situation, and how it is positively experienced by a group, and many more. These products can either add up (aggregate) the findings from primary studies to show the direction and size of the effect of an intervention, together with the degree of confidence we can have in the findings. Or, evidence synthesis products can also arrange the findings of the primary studies (configure them) to offer a whole picture of what all the research is telling us.

There are a number of trusted evidence synthesis libraries that we will turn to, such as the Cochrane Library (containing health-related evidence synthesis products), the Campbell Collaboration Online Library (for social related policies and interventions), the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence’s library (for environmental policies and practices), and the EPPI Centre’s library (for a wide variety of topics). We will also look at a number of reliable databases, including the 3ie systematic review database, Social Systems Evidence database, Health Systems Evidence database, and the Education Endowment Foundation’s Evidence Toolkit.

The format that each blog post in the series will take is as follows:

  • What is the question we are thinking about?
  • Why is this an important topic for citizens?
  • What credible and appropriate evidence did we find, and what did it say?
  • If need be, how do the findings translate to the South African and/or African context?
  • What are we as citizens to do next?
  • How and where did we search, together with a confidence statement about what we found?

We not only hope to provide answers to questions that many of us think of daily, but through showing how we found answers to specific citizen questions in a limited period of time, we aim to enhance the evidence literacies of all of us. And in this, we appreciate the value of research and science in our everyday lives; we celebrate the International Citizen Science Day on Saturday 14 April 2018. #CitSciDay2018

Should you have any question you would like us to do a quick search on, why not email us at