Approaches to evidence synthesis in international development

List of authors: Oliver, S., Gough, D., Copestake, J.

This paper discusses the spectrum of synthesis methods available to generate, explore and test theory, their value to the field of international development and innovations required to make better use of the primary research available. It goes further than setting substantive priorities for international development impact and learning. It addresses current advances and priority gaps in the methods for research before considering the substantive and methodological direction of evidence synthesis for impact evaluation in international development, particularly as this relates to the work of CEDIL.

This scope encompasses methods for all stages in the process, from setting the question to appraising and synthesising the findings. It describes existing methods for synthesis, including how methods vary and the guidance and standards available. It then considers how well existing methods match the field of international development and the latest innovations emerging or required before providing a research agenda for advancing synthesis methods.

In particular, it argues for clearer distinctions between syntheses produced as public goods, and those tailored to specific circumstances; and strengthening knowledge systems through greater use of maps to navigate existing and missing evidence, harmonised outcomes and measures, and advances in automation technologies. Improved methods and guidance are required for synthesising formative research and investigating contextual factors. Engaging stakeholders and working across academic disciplines support the production of policy-relevant syntheses and inspire methods development.

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