End-user understanding of qualitative comparative analysis used within evidence synthesis: A mixed-methods study

Res Synth Methods. 2023 Mar;14(2):180-192. doi: 10.1002/jrsm.1602. Epub 2022 Oct 13.


Background: Enhanced uptake of systematic reviews that use qualitative comparative analyses (QCA) requires knowing how end-users interpret such findings. The study purpose was to identify effective approaches to communicating results from a QCA within a systematic review.

Methods: Sequential exploratory mixed methods design; thematic analysis of interviews with 11 end-users followed by a randomized experiment with 254 participants that provided QCA results for a hypothetical review presented through three formats (text, table, and figure). A survey administered after the experiment assessed subjective and objective comprehension of QCA results.

Results: Interview themes included use of jargon; appropriate use of appendices, tables, figures; and integration of QCA results within the systematic review. In the experiment, we observed a significant difference (p = 0.035) in subjective comprehension across the three presentation formats. Participants randomized to the figure and text formats scored higher compared to the table. No significant differences were observed for objective comprehension overall (p = 0.11). However, for parameter interpretation (a unique component of QCA results), scores among participants that received the figure format were significantly higher than scores for participants who received the text (p = 0.001) or table (p = 0.004). No significant differences (p = 0.09) were observed in objective comprehension for configuration interpretation.

Conclusions: End-users of systematic reviews saw value in the use of QCA, but unfamiliar methods and terminology were barriers to full understanding of the findings. When presenting results, a figure format appears to be superior to text or table formats based on measures of subjective comprehension and some measures of objective comprehension.

Keywords: complex interventions; evidence synthesis; mixed methods research; qualitative comparative analysis; set-theoretic methods; user understanding.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Research Design*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Systematic Reviews as Topic