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Gerstein Science Information Centre

Knowledge syntheses: Systematic & Scoping Reviews, and other review types

The importance of the team

According to Uttley & Montgomery (2017), knowledge syntheses benefit from team working, as co-production is an essential part of high-quality research synthesis. However, despite their reputation as transparent and rigorous products, they are influenced by the people who conduct them and this in turn could affect the resulting conclusions. 

A review team should be comprised of experienced methodologists, information specialists, statisticians, and content experts.

The number of knowledge synthesis has increased exponentially in the last decade. Yet, their value and usability varies greatly based on their methodological, conduct, and reporting quality. Reviews can be susceptible to bias, careless conduct, and incomplete reporting. A strong, well rounded team, is critical to avoid these issues.

Assembling a team

The National Academies (2011) recommend that teams should include members from different disciplines in order to avoid bias. They add that the number of team members depends on the complexity and scope of the review, however they highlight the importance of these members in a team:

  • Topic expert
  • Systematic review methodology expert
  • Search expert
  • Statistician
  • Others as appropriate (stakeholders, key users)  

Project managament

Project management is defined by the Project Management Institute as "the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements". The five main processes of project management include:

  1. Initiating
  2. Planning
  3. Executing
  4. Monitoring and controlling
  5. Closing

There are a variety of project management software tools that streamline projects you may be working on, such as knowledge syntheses. Some recommendations include:

Training

Training is a crucial component to successfully managing a knowledge synthesis project.

If you're interested in learning more about the different types of knowledge syntheses and how to select the most appropriate one for your research, watch the webinar Knowledge synthesis for knowledge users from Cochrane Learning Live in partnership with GESI: the Global Evidence Synthesis Initiative with Dr. Andrea C. Tricco.

If you're interested in learning about how to analyzing and reporting results from systematic reviews and meta-analyses and learn about critical appraisal, enroll in the free online course CERTaIN: Knowledge Synthesis: Systematic Reviews and Clinical Decision Making.

If you'd like to know more about screening and eligibility criteria, take a look at this webinar titled "Screening for studies in systematic reviews, scoping reviews, and other knowledge syntheses: Strategies for improvement", and these training materials and webinar slides. To read more about eligibility criteria, go to this page. To read more about screening, go to this page

Communication

A report by Gillies et al. (2009) shows that although a lack of time poses as the largest barrier in the full completion of a Cochrane review, co-author communication also poses as a barrier, among others. It is not uncommon for review teams to consist of team members that live in different time zones, speak different languages, or do not personally know everyone on the team. Baker et al. (2010) therefore recommend that teams "establish effective communication strategies at the onset of the project. It may be useful to develop a documented communications plan" (p. 449) It is essential that teams maintain consistent personal communication with one another through email, video calls, conference calls, and resource sharing platforms.

This table of resource recommendations for improving team communication has been adapted from Table 2 by Baker et al. (2010). 

Resource  Examples
Meeting planning tools agreeAdate, Time and Date
Voice and video communication Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, ZoomSkype
Sharing files & collaboration platforms Dropbox, Sendthisfile, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Bit.ai, Box, Jumpshare
Remote desktop software LogMeIn, Chrome Remote Desktop, Remote Utilities for Windows

Articles

Read more about the role and importance of the team in conducting a knowledge synthesis: