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BACKGROUND: Overviews of systematic reviews are an increasingly popular method of evidence synthesis; there is a lack of clear guidance for completing overviews and a number of methodological challenges. At the UK Cochrane Symposium 2016, methodological challenges of five overviews were explored. Using data from these five overviews, practical implications to support methodological decision making of authors writing protocols for future overviews are proposed. METHODS: Methods, and their justification, from the five exemplar overviews were tabulated and compared with areas of debate identified within current literature. Key methodological challenges and implications for development of overview protocols were generated and synthesised into a list, discussed and refined until there was consensus. RESULTS: Methodological features of three Cochrane overviews, one overview of diagnostic test accuracy and one mixed methods overview have been summarised. Methods of selection of reviews and data extraction were similar. Either the AMSTAR or ROBIS tool was used to assess quality of included reviews. The GRADE approach was most commonly used to assess quality of evidence within the reviews. Eight key methodological challenges were identified from the exemplar overviews. There was good agreement between our findings and emerging areas of debate within a recent published synthesis. Implications for development of protocols for future overviews were identified. CONCLUSIONS: Overviews are a relatively new methodological innovation, and there are currently substantial variations in the methodological approaches used within different overviews. There are considerable methodological challenges for which optimal solutions are not necessarily yet known. Lessons learnt from five exemplar overviews highlight a number of methodological decisions which may be beneficial to consider during the development of an overview protocol.

Original publication




Journal article


Syst Rev

Publication Date





Challenges, Methods, Overviews, Quality assessment, Synthesis, Data Accuracy, Decision Making, Evidence-Based Medicine, Humans, Publications, Research Design, Review Literature as Topic