Newcomers' guide

Welcome to Cochrane !

COCHRANE REVIEWS                             



Cochrane is an international, non-profit, independent organisation, established to ensure that up-to-date, accurate information about the effects of healthcare interventions is readily available worldwide. It produces and disseminates systematic reviews of healthcare interventions, and promotes the search for evidence in the form of clinical trials and other studies of the effects of interventions. Documents about its history include a chronology of the organisation, and an article describing the evolution of The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews and The Cochrane Library between 1988 and 2003. This shows how Cochrane Reviews were conceived as electronic publications from the outset, and designed to take advantage of features unique to electronic publishing. Cochrane's constitution is contained in its Memorandum and Articles of Association.


Cochrane was established in 1993, and named after the epidemiologist, Archie Cochrane (1909-1988), a British medical researcher who contributed greatly to the development of epidemiology as a science. The organisation benefits from thousands of contributors worldwide, working collaboratively from within many independent groups of people ('Cochrane groups'). Cochrane's principles include fostering good communication, open decision-making and teamwork; reducing barriers to contributing; and encouraging diversity. These things cannot be achieved without people co-operating with each other, setting aside self-interest, and working together to provide evidence with which to improve health care.


Cochrane prepares Cochrane Reviews and aims to update them regularly with the latest scientific evidence. Members of the organisation work together to provide evidence to help people make decisions about health care. Some people read the healthcare literature to find reports of randomised controlled trials; others find such reports by searching electronic databases; others prepare and update Cochrane Reviews based on the evidence found in these trials; others work to improve the methods used in Cochrane Reviews; others provide a vitally important consumer perspective; and others support the people doing these tasks. Cochrane's website provides information on a variety of ways of registering interest or becoming directly involved.


There are more than 31,000 people working within Cochrane in over 100 countries (as of July 2011), over seventy percent of whom are authors of Cochrane Reviews. The number of people has increased by about 20% every year for the last five years. The increase in the number of contributors from low, lower-middle and upper-middle income countries has been even greater, to more than 1000 (9.3%) in 2004 - up by 42% since 2003, and by 248% since 2000. See 'Reference Centres by country' for a world map showing the locations of the Cochrane Centres.


Structure of the Collaboration's groups

[Click on image to enlarge and download PNG file]

Cochrane's members are organised into groups of which there are five different types:

  • Cochrane Review Groups are made up of people who prepare, maintain and update Cochrane Reviews, and people who support them in this process. Each Group has an 'editorial base' where a small team of people supports the production of Cochrane Reviews. These Groups focus on particular areas of health (for example, Breast Cancer, Infectious Diseases, Multiple Sclerosis, Schizophrenia, Tobacco Addiction).
  • Cochrane Centres (some of which have additional branches) support people in their geographic and linguistic area. Dependent on available resources, some Centres are able to provide training, help with translations, networking, etc. Newcomers are encouraged to contact their local Cochrane Centre for information about Cochrane; this can save a lot of time and effort.
  • Methods Groups are made up of people who develop the methodology of Cochrane Reviews.
  • Fields focus on dimensions of health care other than specific health problems, such as the setting of care (for example, primary care), the type of consumer (for example, older people), or the type of intervention (for example, vaccines).
  • The Consumer Network provides information and a forum for networking among consumers (mostly patients), and a liaison point for consumer groups around the world.

The Cochrane Policy Manual contains detailed descriptions of the responsibilities of each of these groups of people. Cochrane groups receive their funding from different sources, but agree to follow Cochrane's policies and practices (also contained in The Cochrane Policy Manual).

The development and implementation of policy affecting Cochrane are the responsibility of the Cochrane Collaboration Steering Group (CCSG), after Cochrane-wide consultation:

  • The Steering Group is guided by the goals and objectives contained in Cochrane's Strategic Plan in developing policy. Steering Group members serve for one or two three-year terms and there is an election for about a third of the members each year. This election uses a system of proportional representation, and each member of the Steering Group represents people from one of the types of Cochrane group. The new members of the Steering Group take office at the Annual General Meeting. The Steering Group meets face-to-face twice a year, and between these meetings it conducts its business by telephone conference and e-mail. The Steering Group has two sub-committees and several advisory committees.

There are several other official roles:

  • Two Ombudsmen help to resolve areas of conflict that arise between people or groups, for which the usual process of involving their Centre Director has not been sufficient.
  • The Publication Arbiter helps people to reach a mutually acceptable agreement in areas of dispute between the editorial teams of Cochrane Review Groups (for example, on the appropriate home for a specific Cochrane Review), and between authors of Cochrane Reviews and their editorial team (for example, when authors and editors cannot agree on some aspects of the review).
  • The Funding Arbiter (a member of the Steering Group) and three other people who form a Funding Arbitration Panel to give guidance on difficult issues referred to them with respect to the organisation's policy on commercial sponsorship.
  • The Company Secretary, whose responsibilities are fulfilled by the Secretariat Administrator, holds office for both the charity and its trading subsidiary (see section of The Cochrane Policy Manual).

The Central Executive Team comprises Cochrane's administrative offices, and supports the work of the Steering Group and its sub-committees, manages the central finances of the organisation, and facilitates communication. Its members are based in Oxford and London, UK, Freiburg, Germany, Copenhaguen, Denmark, and Australia.


Cochrane's central functions are funded by royalties from its publishers, John Wiley and Sons Limited, which come from sales of subscriptions to The Cochrane Library. Cochrane's individual groups are funded by a large variety of governmental, institutional and private funding sources, and are bound by organisation-wide policy limiting uses of funds from corporate sponsors. Please visit our funders page here for a list of our funders. Enquiries regarding funding should be directed to the Cochrane's Chief Executive Officer


Cochrane is committed to involving and supporting people of different skills and backgrounds, to reducing barriers to contributing, and to encouraging diversity. A document entitled 'Cross-cultural team working within The Cochrane Collaboration' gives advice on communicating with people from other cultures. Members of the organisation often work in teams spread across great distances, and so they communicate largely by e-mail. Information of widespread interest is disseminated via an e-mail discussion list called 'CCInfo' which anyone can join, and in printed newsletters such as 'Cochrane News'. Meeting other members of the organisation at our annual conferences (Cochrane Colloquia), and regional meetings of Cochrane contributors, are other ways of fostering good communication.




Cochrane Reviews are systematic assessments of evidence of the effects of healthcare interventions, intended to help people to make informed decisions about health care, their own or someone else's. Cochrane Reviews are needed to help ensure that healthcare decisions throughout the world can be informed by high quality, timely research evidence. This is described on our 'Cochrane Reviews' page. Cochrane Reviews are published in full in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, one of several databases in The Cochrane Library.


Cochrane's main output, the Cochrane Reviews, has had a real and significant impact on practice, policy decisions and research around the world.


Cochrane's main output , Cochrane Reviews, is contained in The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, published electronically by John Wiley and Sons as part of The Cochrane Library. The Cochrane Library is a collection of high quality evidence-based healthcare databases, providing instant access to over 4,600 full text articles reviewing the effects of healthcare interventions. It is published monthly with new and updated Cochrane Reviews, and is available by subscription, on the Internet and on DVD.

An increasing number of countries have a national subscription to The Cochrane Library, which allows everyone in those countries to access The Cochrane Library for free. Abstracts of Cochrane Reviews are freely available to everyone on the Internet via the Cochrane Summaries website. The Cochrane Library provides links to MEDLINE abstracts and the ISI Web of Science, and from references in Cochrane Reviews to journal articles cited within them. Advice on publishing Cochrane Reviews in paper journals as well as in The Cochrane Library is available in section 2.2 of The Cochrane Policy Manual. Besides Cochrane Reviews, The Cochrane Library contains a number of additional databases.

  • Specialist subsets of Cochrane Reviews
    Cochrane Reviews are listed by Cochrane Review Group on the website. Sub-sets of Cochrane Reviews published in The Cochrane Library are also published separately, including The WHO Reproductive Health Library (available by subscription in both English and Spanish) and The Renal Health Library (on CD).
  • Versions of Cochrane Reviews in languages other than English
    The Cochrane Library is available in SpanishLa Cochrane Library Plus en español. Abstracts of reviews and/or summaries available in multiple languages on our site at For information on translations of reviews and their abstracts into other languages, contact Cochrane's publishers, John Wiley and Sons.
  • Cochrane methodology reviews
    As well as Cochrane Reviews of the effects of healthcare interventions, there are also Cochrane methodology reviews of the ways in which health care can be evaluated and, from 2006, there will be Cochrane Reviews of the accuracy of diagnostic tests.

Cochrane has special software for processing Cochrane Reviews called 'RevMan' (Review Manager), managed by the Informatics & Knowledge Management Department in Denmark and Germany. 


Preparing a Cochrane Review requires skills that may be new to the author. Cochrane provides a range of resources to get you started, including the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions, online learning materials and face-to-face workshops. More information and links to resources are available at the Cochrane Training website.



A large variety of information is available:

  • For newcomers, perhaps without any healthcare experience. Some online training is available for people who want to help by searching the healthcare literature. People without a healthcare background can also contribute as authors of Cochrane Reviews.
  • For editorial teams of Cochrane Review Groups. This password-protected material contains many procedural resources, including examples of checklists, forms, etc. In addition, the Cochrane Style Guide provides guidance to enable people to copy edit Cochrane Reviews and other documents produced within Cochrane in a consistent manner.
  • For consumers, the Consumer Network 'CCNet' has a website providing information on the role of health consumers, patients and the general public in Cochrane's work. 
  • Job opportunities within the organisation are advertised on the website from time to time.
  • Frequently Asked Questions

Newcomers are enthusiastically welcomed at Cochrane's annual conferences, the Cochrane Colloquia, which take place around the world. Further information is available on the website on past and future Colloquia.

This material was prepared by Jini Hetherington (Cochrane Collaboration Secretariat), with advice from Jordi Pardo (Iberoamerican Cochrane Centre) and Greg Saunders (German Cochrane Centre). Earlier drafts were sent to many people for comment, and grateful thanks are due in particular to Phil Alderson, Claire Allen, Dave Booker, Mike Clarke, Lisa Horwill, Philippa Middleton and Rob Scholten for their helpful feedback.

Updated on: March 5, 2014, 10:13

Comments for improvement or correction are welcome.