Competence 4: Evaluating how the information meets the identified need
“How does the information you find meet your need?”
This is where you have an opportunity to assess the relevance of the information you have found, and to check for any gaps between the information and the topic. This is also when you need to weigh up whether the information you have found already meets your needs, or whether you need to carry out further searches.
Remember, you do not have to use all of the competences along your journey to become information literate, nor do you need to use them in any particular order, but you will almost certainly have to ask yourself the particular questions attached to each competence, to judge whether the information that you have found supports your practice. There are many books and journal articles available that will help you learn how to evaluate, or critique, research. You can find these, including links to the resources mentioned on this page and in the 'Useful resources relating to the competences' section.
Critical appraisal is the name given to a particular type of evaluation and is defined as "the process of carefully and systematically examining research to judge its trustworthiness, and its value and relevance in a particular context" (Burls, 2009). The Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) is available from Solutions for Public Health (SPH), a not-for-profit NHS public health organisation. It will help you look more closely at quantitative and qualitative studies.
The Learning Zone offers an online tutorial and tips on how you can best judge the quality of any clinical guidelines that you have found, in order to decide whether they are of use to your practice. It's free to all RCN members. Another useful tool is DISCERN, a brief questionnaire which provides users with a valid and reliable way of assessing the quality of written information on treatment choices for a health problem.
You may find that there is just so much information available on the topic that you are researching, that you feel a little overwhelmed by the 'information overload'. In this instance, it can be very difficult to sift out information that is current, valid and relevant to your topic, and then to apply it. You're not alone - many health care workers feel the same. But it's important to remember that whilst a huge amount of information may be available on any given topic, you are really only concerned with finding trustworthy information that will lead to a better outcome for your patient.
The National Prescribing Centre (NPC), a health service organisation set up by the Department of Health, suggests that a useful mnemonic - FOCC - 'Feasible', 'Outcomes', 'Common' and Change' - can help you to focus on ensuring that information is relevant to your area. With this in mind, you might find the mnemonic in the animation below useful. See Underhill (2006).
Information Mastery addresses the difficulties healthcare professionals can experience - that of finding the best clinical evidence available for individual patients - when there is so much information available. For more details, see the work of Underhill and Pegler (2005).
You may want to record any key actions that you want to implement in your daily practice, or any reflections related to your learning, in the 'Taking action' section. You can type straight into the PDF documents, which can then be saved onto your computer and uploaded to your e-Portfolio, as evidence of your learning.