We constantly hear claims of the effects of some action or intervention, such as carbon taxes or antibiotics. We also continually have to make decisions about how to address challenges ranging from global threats like climate change to how to treat a sore throat. Unfortunately, people often fail to think critically about such claims and decisions. When we do, we may struggle to understand whether the supporting evidence is trustworthy, and we may not make well-informed decisions. Individuals and organisations across a wide variety of fields are working to enable people to make evidence-informed decisions. These efforts include synthesising the best available evidence in systematic reviews, making that evidence more accessible, and teaching people to make evidence – informed choices. We tend to work in silos within our own field, sometimes learning from colleagues in other fields.
Collectively, we have worked with our colleagues for decades to promote informed choices in 14 fields: agriculture, economics, education, environmental management, international development, healthcare, informal learning, management, nutrition, planetary health, policing, social welfare, speech and language therapy, and veterinary medicine. Starting with a framework from healthcare, we have reached a consensus on a common framework for thinking critically about claims, comparisons (evidence), and choices.
The Key Concepts for Informed Choices are principles for evaluating the trustworthiness of claims about the effects of interventions and evidence used to support such claims, and for making informed decisions. They are organised in three groups: claims, comparisons, and choices. Concepts in the first group are about common, unreliable bases for claims. Concepts in the second group are about things that people need to look out for to judge whether research evidence that compares interventions and summaries of such comparisons are trustworthy. Concepts in the third group are about judgments people need to make when choosing whether to use an intervention.
While the Key Concepts can be applied across disciplines, the language and examples used to teach and explain them may vary by field. For example, for decisions about healthcare treatments, the focus is often on individuals. For decisions about the environment, the focus may be on humans, other species or ecosystems. In contrast to healthcare treatments, options for intervening are rarely referred to as treatments; and decisions are more likely to be made collectively rather than by individuals.
The relative importance of some concepts is also likely to vary. For example, it is often important to consider potential placebo effects when assessing claims about medical treatments and nutrition, but it is rarely important when assessing claims about the effects of interventions on the environment. Because of these important differences across fields, we have considered which Key Concepts are most relevant and applicable in our respective fields, and how best to teach and communicate these concepts in our respective fields. Links to these adaptations of the Key Concepts for Informed Choices can be found here.