Making the Most of What We Already Know: A Three-Stage Approach to Systematic Reviewing

Natalie Rebelo Da Silva, Hazel Zaranyika, Laurenz Langer, Nicola Randall, Evans Muchiri, Ruth Stewart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Conducting a systematic review in social policy is a resource-intensive process in terms of time and funds. It is thus important to understand the scope of the evidence base of a topic area prior to conducting a synthesis of primary research in order to maximize these resources. One approach to conserving resources is to map out the available evidence prior to undertaking a traditional synthesis. A few examples of this approach exist in the form of gap maps, overviews of reviews, and systematic maps supported by social policy and systematic review agencies alike. Despite this growing call for alternative approaches to systematic reviews, it is still common for systematic review teams to embark on a traditional in-depth review only. Objectives: This article describes a three-stage approach to systematic reviewing that was applied to a systematic review focusing in interventions for smallholder farmers in Africa. We argue that this approach proved useful in helping us to understand the evidence base. Results: By applying preliminary steps as part of a three-stage approach, we were able to maximize the resources needed to conduct a traditional systematic review on a more focused research question. This enabled us to identify and fill real knowledge gaps, build on work that had already been done, and avoid wasting resources on areas of work that would have no useful outcome. It also facilitated meaningful engagement between the review team and our key policy stakeholders.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-172
Number of pages18
JournalEvaluation Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017


  • evidence
  • smallholder farmers
  • synthesis
  • systematic map
  • systematic review
  • three-stage approach

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Social Sciences


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