In 2016, the Rhode Island Department of Health formed an Arts and Health Advisory Group, which set out to see if there was substantial evidence that arts-based treatments could be effective in primary health care or public health settings.

The Advisory Group proceeded to investigate this evidence using the gold-standard methodology of a systematic literature review—painstakingly scouring through thousands of publications, looking to find high-quality studies that reported the effects of arts-based treatments.

Once a set of acceptable study publications was found, the team then read each paper and manually extracted relevant meta-data (e.g., what intervention and clinical population were studied in the paper) into an Excel spreadsheet.

At the end of this months-long process, the Advisory Group knew they had created something valuable—i.e., the dataset in the Excel file—that held insights about what is known and unknown at the intersection of arts and health. But they also knew that this data could be far more valuable if there was an interactive and dynamic way to explore, discuss, and communicate those insights.

One of the principal investigators of the systematic review, Dr. Stacey Springs, was already an advocate for the use of evidence maps to unlock insights from systematic review data. But she didn’t have the tools that she needed to create an interactive evidence map. However, Dr. Springs had recently seen some of Spencer Hey’s (Prism’s co-founder) work on visualizing research metadata, and so she reached out to Spencer to see what he could do with their data.

And the rest, as they say, is history! The picture on the right shows the evidence map that Spencer (using an early version of Prism’s software) created for Dr. Springs and the Arts and Health Advisory Group. The map went on to be featured in the Advisory Group’s final report to the Rhode Island Department of Health, led to a peer-reviewed publication, and the interactive version is now hosted on the Department of Health’s website.

But beyond these “hard deliverables,” Dr. Springs also observed how the map began to transform the artist community’s relationship to science. Some of the artists on the team had been involved in studies that couldn’t be added to the map because of deficiencies in the study’s design or reporting. But while getting left off the map was initially disappointing to some in the community, the disappointment quickly turned to empowerment, as they came to see how the requirements to get on the map would help them to design better studies and produce better evidence that their art and practices were beneficial.

Indeed, Springs saw the artist community progressively gain mastery over the scientific landscape and start to leverage this new-found power toward a more fruitful engagement with the health care system, eventually culminating with the community securing additional funding to continue building these connections between arts and public health, including an Artist in Residence pilot program at the Rhode Island Department of Public Health and the development of a bold plan to use design thinking to conceptualize a Center for Arts and Health in Rhode Island.

None of that would have been possible without the map—which was itself made possible thanks to Prism’s technology.


Springs S, Rofeberg V, Brown S, Boudreau S, Hey SP, Baruch J. Community-engaged Evidence Synthesis to Inform Public Health Policy and Clinical Practice: A Case Study. Med Care. 2019;57 Suppl 10 Suppl 3(10 Suppl 3):S253-S258.