In 2016, the state of Rhode Island began developing a state health plan. As a part of this process, Rhode Island’s Department of Health and Council for the Arts created an advisory group of 30 individuals—which included researchers, artists, and clinicians—to explore ways of integrating arts into the health care system.

The advisory group decided to take a community-engaged evidence synthesis approach, wherein the researchers taught local artists and other members of the advisory group how to conduct a systematic review.

The 2019 report for this project can be downloaded here; and the evidence map below is one of the featured outputs of this process: 481 studies evaluating the health effects of an arts-based intervention. Every study included in the review is represented by a circular node, arranged by intervention type along the x-axis and the patient population studied along the y-axis. The size of the nodes corresponds to the number of research subjects in the study. The color of the node corresponds to the direction of evidence (e.g., positive results are green, negative are red, mixed or ambiguous results are yellow, and unknown results are gray).

Bokeh Plot

What does this show?

The outputs of traditional systematic reviews are typically bulky documents that focus on narrow questions. However, the needs and interests of many stakeholders are often broader than this. Policymakers, for example, want to know the full range of what’s been tried, what can work, what possible solutions are out there. The interactive evidence map captures this broader picture of the evidence, allowing for a more flexible and rich policy conversation that can react to questions in real-time.

This evidence map elucidates where the evidence for different interventions is strong (i.e., particular interventions and settings that are ready for implementation); where it is weak (i.e., more research needed before implementing); and where it is lacking entirely (i.e., potentially overlooked opportunities). It also empowers the artists and practitioners to have more productive conversations with patients, policymakers, and payers—to be able to point to the evidence showing that their interventions are effective and should be reimbursed.

In addition to presenting the landscape of existing evidence, this map also helps to structure the conversation about what to do next. Research funders, for example, can use the map to show particular gaps that match their priority areas and encourage their applicants to propose studies to fill those gaps. Research teams or developers can use the map to think more comprehensively about opportunities. Are there patterns in the landscape that suggest new hypotheses? Are there empty regions that correspond to critical needs? The ability to hover, zoom, click, and drill down on the evidence makes this a powerful tool for coordination research activities and planning that next step.