Systematic reviews provide reliable summaries of available evidence on the effects of programmes to improve people’s lives. We know that timely availability of evidence is a key factor influencing evidence use, but the time-lag between new study results becoming available and their integration into new or updated systematic reviews is typically measured in years, due to lags in study publication, coupled with a resource and time-intensive review process. Moreover, in a sector where new evidence is being produced on a frequent basis, this time-lag means reviews can rapidly become out of date. In the health sector, systematic review methodologists, knowledge managers, information scientists and computer scientists have developed technology-enabled approaches to help produce systematic reviews more efficiently and within shorter time frames.
One key goal is to develop the methods and infrastructure for “Living Systematic Reviews” – systematic reviews that are updated as soon as new evidence emerge. At the core of this idea is a “continuous evidence surveillance” approach, underpinned by improved production efficiency, which enables reviews to be rapidly updated as new eligible studies become available, helping their conclusions to remain current and meet identified end-user needs (Mavergames and Elliott 2016). Drawing on the developments in other sectors, this paper explores the opportunities for more efficient and timely review production in international development, including, but not limited to “living systematic reviews”. In doing so it is addressing three objectives: (1) Reviewing the “state-of-the-art” approaches to producing more efficient and timely systematic reviews, including, but not limited to “living systematic reviews”; (2) Assessing applicability and feasibility of applying these approaches to syntheses in international development; and (3) Identifying a “roadmap” to rapid (and living) systematic reviews in international development.