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How useful are systematic reviews for evaluating gender norm change interventions?



​Systematic reviews have a long history in medical research, synthesising evidence through randomised controlled trials and answering questions about ‘what works’. But they are increasingly favoured in international development research because they can bring together the highest quality evidence on a given issue and assess the effectiveness of different interventions, as well as helping to explain why certain types of programme are effective.

This Research and practice note outlines reasons for conducting a systematic review and includes a useful flowchart to aid the decision of whether to conduct one, or alternatively another form of evidence review. It also includes valuable tips on guiding your systematic review and developing your initial research question. Drawing on the authors’ own experiences of conducting a systematic review on communications interventions challenging discriminatory norms affecting adolescent girls, the note sets out the various stages involved in the process: the literature search, the appraisal and exclusion of studies, and synthesis and analysis of findings.

Despite the valuable insights such reviews can bring, the note also explores challenges of using review evidence to assess change in gender norms that affect adolescent girls, such as the difficulties involved in assessing qualitative and mixed method studies, the lack of clear insights into long-term impacts and often the limited amount of detail on programme activities, making it difficult to draw detailed conclusions on the effectiveness of different programmatic components.

Ella Page with Rachel Marcus