Adapting systematic reviews for social research in international development: a case study on child protection

Working and discussion papers
June 2013
David Walker, Gina Bergh, Ella Page and Maren Duvendack

Confronted with more primary and secondary evidence stocks than ever before, systematic reviews (SRs) have emerged for many as a promising answer to the otherwise confusing and insurmountable data assimilation challenge.

For others, the SR methodology raises more questions than it answers. While an emerging body of evidence discusses these issues, there is little evidence that goes into significant detail about the SR method’s relevance to qualitative and complex social topics or interventions.

This paper discusses lessons from an 'adapted systematic review' on the links between approaches on child protection and income poverty.

It discusses three core challenges:

1. managing disciplinary diversity and evidence gaps

2. handling quantitative, qualitative and mixed data and an overly stringent application of guidelines

3. the need for a suitably adapted method of synthesising evidence.

Each of these are addressed individually in the paper, which culminates in an assessment of the broader implications for different actors in the international development community.