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The Process of Evidence-based Library & Information Practice: The well-built question

 

 

                                   

 

You’ll revisit this scenario in the hands-on exercise part of this module.


Today’s module is about focusing on the most important parts of an issue in order to find answers pertinent to the need.  By the end of it, you’ll be able to consider a situation such as this one, determine which are the key components, and use two different templates to create a ‘well built’ question in order to begin looking for information from LIS literature resources. We’ll begin by looking at several examples taken from the literature to see how such a question can be built, then you can try it yourself in the hands-on exercise, including conducting several searches to evaluate how well your question works.  Finally, you’ll reflect on your experience, and share your thoughts about question building as part of the whole EBL process by posting them on the class bulletin board (and responding to others’ posts, as well).

Remember the 5 step process of EBL as described in the last module:

1. Formulate a clearly-stated, answerable question 
2. Track down the best evidence
3. Critically appraise the evidence
4. Apply to clinical practice
5. Evaluate performance

Recall that in Module 1, you read about PICO as it is applied to questions in clinical practice:

PICO: Formulating patient-centered questions

Patient, Population, or Problem

How would I describe a group of patients similar to mine?

Intervention, Prognostic Factor, or Exposure

Which main intervention, prognostic factor, or exposure am I considering?

Comparison of Intervention (if appropriate)

What is the main alternative to compare with the intervention?

Outcome you would like to measure or achieve

What can I hope to accomplish, measure, improve or affect?

As you know, using this template helps not only in build a pertinent research question, but also sets the stage for a focused, structured search of the literature. This works well in medicine due to structured abstracts and a very broad and deep body of literature - but how well can it be adapted to LIS issues and resources?  Recalling Module 2’s discussion about common methods used in LIS work settings (such as listserves and other peer support), how can we find answers that incorporate the 3 important elements: best resources, practitioner expertise, and a consideration of the population or problem?

Explore PICO and SPICE: The well-built question templates proposed for LIS

PICO

The intended purpose of both PICO (adapted, of course, from EBM) and SPICE (specifically created for LIS issues) is to help construct a 'well-built' question. Here's where the process of EBL starts. A question is considered to be well built if it addresses the most pertinent aspects of your information need, and will lead to a focused answer. How you ask the question will vary, depending upon the problem or situation or need.  Take a look at the first of these two question-building templates, PICO.

PICO: Formulating problem or patron-focused questions in LIS

Population or Problem

Recipients or potential beneficiaries of a service or intervention, or the situation being examined

 

Intervention or exposure

The service or planned action to be delivered to the population

 

Comparison

An alternative service or action that may or may not achieve similar outcomes  (this could be the status quo, or none at all)

 

Outcome

The ways in which the service or action can be measured to establish whether it has had a desired effect

 

Here’s an example of the use of the PICO model, as it’s applied to LIS:

The situation you need information about:

Concerned about cost, your administrator has suggested switching from OCLC to DOCLINE for interlibrary loan.  Your own feeling is that OCLC provides better access to the primary literature than DOCLINE for your population of nursing students in a distance learning program. 

P nursing students in a distance learning program (population)

I  provision of primary nursing literature through DOCLINE
C  provision of primary nursing literature through OCLC
O  most comprehensive access to primary nursing literature

 

Your well-built question is derived directly from this exercise:

For nursing students in a distance-learning program, does OCLC or DOCLINE provide better access to the primary nursing literature?

 

 

Here's another example:

“We have to get this under control,” gripes the library’s director.  “E-journal management is taking up more and more time – with no end in sight.  We need some kind of decision-making template when it comes to collection decisions for e-journals.”  With that, you (as the head of serials) are tasked to explore options and report back.

 

 

Note: In class, this is where I would ask participants to help fill out the PICO model.  Since the tutorial’s online, I will use an interactive form with immediate feedback.  For example, P (problem or population) would offer various options:

 

1. Library serials staff dealing with e-journal collection management

Response: While saving the time of serials staff is certainly one issue of concern, it may not be the main issue. Consider that if you focus on this element alone, your findings may not incorporate other elements that need to be considered.

 

2. Increasingly complex e-journal collection management

Response: Correct!  That’s exactly the situation of concern.  Remember that the purpose of question building is ultimately to focus on the main elements – and you did that.  This will help later on, when you begin to search for ‘best evidence.’

 

3. Patrons who need access to materials in a timely fashion

Response: While making sure patrons have access to what they need in a timely fashion is certainly one issue of concern, it may not be the main issue. Consider that if you focus on this element alone, your findings may not incorporate other elements that need to be considered.

 

 

Here’s one way to complete this PICO question-building template:

P  increasingly complex e-journal collection management (problem)
I   methods used at your library for decision making
C  methods used by other libraries for decision making
O  streamlined methods for e-journal collection management

Your well-built question is derived directly from this exercise:

With an environment of increasingly complex e-journal collection management, what are other libraries doing to streamline the process? 

Note that in this example, the PICO model could have been simplified to just two elements: P (Problem) and C (comparison).  The director didn’t ask for a solution, just for some options.  Presumably, the next step might be to ask which of the options would best suit your library, but for now, you’re asking what’s known as an Exploration question, which is “characterized by open-endedness” (Booth & Brice, 2004).  You may remember this from your reading assignment (see pages 64-67 in Booth & Brice for an explanation of all the different question types).

Explore SPICE

Remember from Chapter 6 of the Booth and Brice text, the SPICE question building template is proposed as an alternative to PICO.  You may find, in working to build these and other questions, that one or the other seems to be a better fit to the topic.  Be sure to note your thoughts about this because later you will be asked to reflect on the overall question building experience.

SPICE: Formulating problem or patron-focused questions in LIS

Setting

Place where the intervention will occur

 

Perspective

Population affected by the intervention

 

Intervention

The service or planned action

 

Comparison

Alternate service or action (could be the status quo, or no intervention)

 

Evaluation

The measure of effect

 

 

 Use the SPICE template to build your question from the same two scenarios.

The situation you need information about:

Concerned about cost, your administrator has suggested switching from OCLC to DOCLINE for interlibrary loan.  Your own feeling is that OCLC provides better access to the primary literature than DOCLINE for your population of nursing students in a distance learning program. 

Note: Interactive form here, with immediate feedback.

Here’s one way to complete the template:

S  online

P  nursing students in a distance education program

I   provision of primary nursing literature through DOCLINE
C  provision of primary nursing literature through OCLC
E  most comprehensive access to primary nursing literature

 

Note that compared to PICO, SPICE asks you to provide one more important element that needs to be considered.

 

Practice writing your well built question, based on what we learned in the PICO template:

Note: Interactive form here presenting 3 options for the ‘well built question,’ with immediate feedback.

Try the second scenario, again using SPICE:

“We have to get this under control,” gripes the library’s director.  “E-journal management is taking up more and more time – with no end in sight.  We need some kind of decision-making template when it comes to collection decisions for e-journals.”  With that, you (as the head of serials) are tasked to explore options and report back.

Note: Interactive form here, with immediate feedback.

Here’s one way to complete the template:

S  your library

P  increasingly complex e-journal collection management (problem)
I   methods used at your library for decision making
C  methods used by other libraries for decision making
E  streamlined methods for e-journal collection management

 

Practice writing your well build question, based on what we learned in the PICO template:

Note: Interactive form here presenting 3 options for the ‘well built question,’ with immediate feedback.


Hands on assignment

(link to form)

Question building assignment

These are all short-answer or short-essay responses.  Feedback will involve responses to individuals via email.

 

Your assignment involves question building, using either the PICO or the SPICE model. You'll create a 'well built' question for each of two scenarios, then propose search terms using any combination of subject headings or keywords you feel is appropriate.

 

Remember the goal of building questions is to focus on key elements in order to facilitate on-target and efficient searching.  Finally, you’ll reflect on the experience. 


Scenario 1
You know you want some kind of federated searching product, but - where do you begin? How have other libraries approached this issue in a systematic way, in order to make the best decision based on all the key issues?

a) First, identify your PICO or SPICE components:


b) What is your well-built question?

 

c) Think ahead: What search terms would you use in the CSA LISA database? 

  Question 16 text         
Scenario 2


You've just received the bad news: all departmental budgets are cut across the board by 10%. Short of laying off staff, what are your options for additional cost recovery? 

a) First, identify your PICO or SPICE components:

 

b) What is your well-built question?

 

c) Think ahead: What search terms would you use in the CSA LISA database? 

           

 

Take a few minutes to reflect on your results and experience in this exercise.

 


 

Preparation for the next module:

 

Read Booth & Brice, Ch.7 (pp. 71-88):  Identifying sources of evidence.

Note: Pay particular attention to discussions of domains resources.  Note that the resource listing is more suited to British readers than to American.

- and -

Booth & Brice Chapter 8 (pp. 89-103): Searching the library and information science literature

Note: Recall PICO and SPICE’s purpose in helping to focus on pertinent aspects of a question in order to obtain more pertinent results in a search.  

 

04/16/2006