Although first applied in the medical sciences in the 1970s, systematic reviews have been recently, and increasingly, used in the field of international development to examine the impacts of a range of development and humanitarian interventions. However, to date, there has been only limited critical reflection on their application within this field. Drawing on the authors' first-hand experiences of conducting eight systematic reviews, this article reflects upon the use of systematic reviews in international development research. It is concluded that although using systematic review principles can help researchers improve the rigour and breadth of literature reviews, conducting a full systematic review is a resource-intensive process which involves a number of practical challenges. Further, it raises a series of fundamental concerns for those working in international development, as well as the social sciences more broadly. Ultimately, systematic reviews should be viewed as a means to finding a robust and sensible answer to a focused research question, but not as an end in themselves.
Mallett, R.; Hagen-Zanker, J.; Slater, R.; Duvendack, M. The benefits and challenges of using systematic reviews in international development research. Journal of Development Effectiveness (2012) 4 (3) 445-455. [Special Issue on Systematic Reviews] [DOI: 10.1080/19439342.2012.711342]