Environmental research varies in its methodological quality, degree of bias, and relevance to policy questions. Using this heterogeneous, and sometimes polarised, research to inform environmental policies can be challenging. Policy-making in the healthcare field sometimes uses systematic reviews (SRs) to tackle these issues and present a comprehensive, policy-neutral, transparent and reproducible synthesis of the evidence. However, there is less familiarity with SRs in the environmental field. The aim of this article is to: (1) summarise the process of conducting SRs, using best practice methods from the healthcare field as an example, (2) explain the rationale behind each stage of conducting a SR, and (3) examine the prospects and challenges of using SRs to inform environmental policy. We conclude that existing SR protocols from healthcare can be, and have been, applied successfully to environmental research but some adaptations could improve the process. The literature search stage could be expedited by standardising the reporting and indexing of environmental studies, equivalent to that in the healthcare field. The consistency of the study appraisal stage of SRs could be augmented by refining the existing quality assessment tools used in the healthcare field, enhancing their ability to discriminate quality and risk of bias in non-randomised studies. Ultimately, the strength of evidence within SRs on environmental topics could be improved through more widespread use of randomised controlled trials as a research method, owing to their inherently lower risk of bias when conducted according to best practice.
Bibliographical note© 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).
- Systematic review
- Literature review
- Environmental science
- Environmental policy