A scoping review identifies multiple emerging knowledge synthesis methods, but few studies operationalize the method

J Clin Epidemiol. 2016 May:73:19-28. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2015.08.030. Epub 2016 Feb 15.


Objectives: To systematically identify, define, and classify emerging knowledge synthesis methods through a scoping review.

Study design and setting: MEDLINE, CINAHL, EMBASE, PsycINFO, the Cochrane Methodology Register, the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Social Sciences Abstracts, Library and Information Science Abstracts, Philosopher's Index, and Education Resources Information Center were searched to identify articles reporting emerging knowledge synthesis methods across the disciplines of health, education, sociology, and philosophy. Two reviewers independently selected studies and abstracted data for each article.

Results: In total, 409 articles reporting on 25 knowledge synthesis methods were included after screening of 17,962 titles and abstracts and 1,010 potentially relevant full-text articles. Most of the included articles were an application of the method (83.9%); only 3.7% were seminal articles that fully described the method (i.e., operationalized the steps). Most of the included articles were published after 2005. The methods were most commonly used across the fields of nursing, health care science and services, and health policy.

Conclusion: We found a lack of guidance on how to select a knowledge synthesis method. We propose convening an international group of leaders in the knowledge synthesis field to help clarify emerging approaches to knowledge synthesis.

Keywords: Knowledge synthesis; Meta-ethnography; Meta-narrative; Meta-synthesis; Realist review; Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Factual
  • Epidemiologic Research Design*
  • Humans
  • Review Literature as Topic*