Optimizing process and methods for a living systematic review: 30 search updates and three review updates later
Butler AR., Hartmann-Boyce J., Livingstone-Banks J., Turner T., Lindson N.
Objective: To describe the living systematic review (LSR) process and to share experience of planning, searches, screening, extraction, publishing and dissemination to inform and assist authors planning their own LSR. Many LSR do not publish more than one update, we hope this paper helps to increase this. Study Design and Setting: A Cochrane LSR with an international author team that has been ‘living’ for two years, with monthly search updates and three full updates published in this time. LSRs are regularly updated systematic reviews that allow new evidence to be incorporated as it becomes available. LSR are ideally suited to policy-relevant topics where there is uncertainty and new evidence will likely impact the interpretation and/or certainty of outcomes. Results: The key features of the process that require consideration are: specifying the frequency of searches and triggers for full updates in the protocol; stakeholder input; publishing and disseminating monthly search findings. A strong team, incorporating methodological and topic expertise, with core members that meet regularly is essential. Regular search updates make it important to have a clear cyclical schedule of activity. To achieve timely updates this process should be streamlined, for example, using automated monthly searches, and systematic reviewing software for screening. LSR provide a unique opportunity to incorporate stakeholder feedback. Conclusions: We recommend that LSRs should be: justified; carefully planned including the timing of search updates, triggers for publication and termination; published in a timely manner; have a clear dissemination plan; and a strong core team of authors.