Efficient, timely and living systematic reviews: opportunities in international development

Authors: Snilstveit, B., Stevenson, J., Shemilt, I., Thomas, J.

Brief summary:

Systematic reviews aim to provide reliable summaries of extant evidence on the effects of programmes to improve people’s lives. We know that timely availability of evidence is a key factor influencing evidence use, but the time lag between new study results becoming available and their integration into new or updated systematic reviews is typically measured in years, due to lags in study publication, coupled with the resource and time intensive review process. Moreover, in a sector where new evidence is being produced on a frequent basis, this time lag means reviews can rapidly become out of date.

In the healthcare field, systematic review methodologists, knowledge managers, information scientists and computer scientists have developed various technology-enabled approaches to help produce systematic reviews more efficiently. One key goal is to develop the methods and infrastructure for ‘Living Systematic Reviews’: a ‘continuous evidence surveillance’ approach, underpinned by improved production efficiency, which enables reviews to be rapidly updated as new eligible studies become available, helping their conclusions to remain current, in order to meet identified end-user needs (Mavergames and Elliott 2016).

This paper will explore opportunities for more efficient and timely review production in international development, including, but not limited to ‘living systematic reviews. In doing so the paper will address three objectives: (1) Review the ‘state of the art’ approaches to producing more efficient and timely systematic reviews, including, but not limited to ‘living systematic reviews’; (2) Assess applicability, and feasibility of applying these approaches to syntheses in international development; and (3) Identify a ‘roadmap’ to rapid (and living) systematic reviews in international development, separated into what is readily available and what needs further development and testing. It will identify methods and tools that are readily available for review authors, and promising methodological approaches in need of further development or adaptation.

To address these objectives the paper will use a combination of literature review, worked examples, feasibility testing and modelling approaches. The paper will contribute towards two key CEDIL objectives. Firstly, it will contribute to CEDIL’s role as a centre for methodological innovation. Secondly, it will contribute to CEDIL’s objective of promoting the uptake and use of evidence from impact evaluations through timely syntheses of impact evaluation evidence.

The final paper will be available on the website end of September 2018

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