Building on previous reflections on the utility of systematic reviews in international development research, this paper describes an approach to carrying out a literature review that adheres to some of the core principles of ‘full’ systematic reviews, but that also contains space within the process for innovation and reflexivity. We discuss all stages of the review process, but pay particular attention to the retrieval phase, which, we argue, should consist of three interrelated tracks – important for navigating difficult ‘information architecture’. We end by clarifying what it is in particular that sets this approach apart from fuller systematic reviews, as well as with some broader thoughts on the nature of ‘the literature review’ within international development and the social sciences more generally. The paper should thus be seen as sitting somewhere between a practical toolkit for those wishing to undertake a rigorous, evidence-focused review and a series of reflections on the role, purpose and application of literature reviews in policy research.
Jessica Hagen-Zanker and Richard Mallett