Background: The World Health Organization (WHO), like many other organisations around the world, has recognised the need to use more rigorous processes to ensure that health care recommendations are informed by the best available research evidence. This is the first of a series of 16 reviews that have been prepared as background for advice from the WHO Advisory Committee on Health Research to WHO on how to achieve this.
Objectives: We reviewed the literature on guidelines for the development of guidelines.
Methods: We searched PubMed and three databases of methodological studies for existing systematic reviews and relevant methodological research. We did not conduct systematic reviews ourselves. Our conclusions are based on the available evidence, consideration of what WHO and other organisations are doing and logical arguments.
Key questions and answers: We found no experimental research that compared different formats of guidelines for guidelines or studies that compared different components of guidelines for guidelines. However, there are many examples, surveys and other observational studies that compared the impact of different guideline development documents on guideline quality. WHAT HAVE OTHER ORGANIZATIONS DONE TO DEVELOP GUIDELINES FOR GUIDELINES FROM WHICH WHO CAN LEARN?: Establish a credible, independent committee that evaluates existing methods for developing guidelines or that updates existing ones. Obtain feedback and approval from various stakeholders during the development process of guidelines for guidelines. Develop a detailed source document (manual) that guideline developers can use as reference material. WHAT SHOULD BE THE KEY COMPONENTS OF WHO GUIDELINES FOR GUIDELINES?: Guidelines for guidelines should include information and instructions about the following components: 1) Priority setting; 2) Group composition and consultations; 3) Declaration and avoidance of conflicts of interest; 4) Group processes; 5) Identification of important outcomes; 6) Explicit definition of the questions and eligibility criteria ; 7) Type of study designs for different questions; 8) Identification of evidence; 9) Synthesis and presentation of evidence; 10) Specification and integration of values; 11) Making judgments about desirable and undesirable effects; 12) Taking account of equity; 13) Grading evidence and recommendations; 14) Taking account of costs; 15) Adaptation, applicability, transferability of guidelines; 16) Structure of reports; 17) Methods of peer review; 18) Planned methods of dissemination & implementation; 19) Evaluation of the guidelines. WHAT HAVE OTHER ORGANIZATIONS DONE TO IMPLEMENT GUIDELINES FOR GUIDELINES FROM WHICH WHO CAN LEARN?: Obtain buy-in from regions and country level representatives for guidelines for guidelines before dissemination of a revised version. Disseminate the guidelines for guidelines widely and make them available (e.g. on the Internet). Develop examples of guidelines that guideline developers can use as models when applying the guidelines for guidelines. Ensure training sessions for those responsible for developing guidelines. Continue to monitor the methodological literature on guideline development.