Repurposing NGO data for better research outcomes: A scoping review of the use and secondary analysis of NGO data in health policy and systems research

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Non-government organisations (NGOs) collect and generate vast amounts of potentially rich data, most of which are not used for research purposes. Secondary analysis of NGO data (their use and analysis in a study for which they were not originally collected) presents an important but largely unrealised opportunity to provide new research insights in critical areas including the evaluation of health policy and programmes.
A scoping review of the published literature was performed to identify the extent to which secondary analysis of NGO data has been used in health policy and systems research (HPSR). A tiered analytic approach provided a comprehensive overview and descriptive analyses of the studies which: 1) used data produced or collected by or about NGOs; 2) performed secondary analysis of the NGO data (beyond use of an NGO report as a supporting reference); 3) used NGO-collected clinical data.
Of the 156 studies which performed secondary analysis of NGO-produced or collected data, 64% (n=100) used NGO-produced reports (e.g. to critique NGO activities and as a contextual reference) and 8% (n=13) analysed NGO-collected clinical data.. Of the studies, 55% investigated service delivery research topics, with 48% undertaken in developing countries and 17% in both developing and developed. NGO-collected clinical data enabled HPSR within marginalised groups (e.g. migrants, people in conflict-affected areas), with some limitations such as inconsistencies and missing data.
We found evidence that NGO-collected and produced data are most commonly perceived as a source of supporting evidence for HPSR and not as primary source data. However, these data can facilitate research in under-researched marginalised groups and in contexts that are hard to reach by academics, such as conflict-affected areas. NGO–academic collaboration could help address issues of NGO data quality to facilitate their more widespread use in research. Their use could enable relevant and timely research in the areas of health policy, programme evaluation and advocacy to improve health and reduce health inequalities, especially in marginalised groups and developing countries.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalHealth Research Policy and Systems
Issue number63
Early online date8 Jun 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 8 Jun 2020

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© The Author(s). 2020

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