Case Study: Systematic Reviews Bridge Conflicting Studies to Help Support Policy and Program Decisions

Reviewing and Synthesizing the Evidence Can Help Move Beyond Conflicts

The systematic review provides a verdict on unsettled . . . debates based on a painstaking reassessment of all the relevant research. The impact can be enormous.

- The New York Times
Project Facts
  • We have conducted systematic reviews for the U.S. Department of Education, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Labor, and other clients. 
  • Our Center for Improving Research Evidence plays an important role in helping decision makers use research evidence effectively in domestic and international  settings.
The Issue

Tight budgets and increased program scrutiny place a new focus on evidence-based decision-making. Decision makers need a way of drawing accurate lessons from what can be a large assortment of relevant studies. Systematic reviews inform this process, because they identify, assess, and synthesize key pieces of evidence on policy or program effectiveness. But conducting a high quality systematic review can require significant time and resources.

The Approach

Mathematica has extensive expertise conducting systematic reviews in a number of settings. Our reviews follow predefined, transparent processes and standards that allow readers to understand the basis of the summary findings. Following such processes and standards also makes it easy to replicate or supplement the review at a later date. We use best-practice literature search methods and follow established scientific standards to assess the quality of studies. We then synthesize the findings to make them accessible to the intended audience.

The Impacts

Systematic reviews ground new policy initiatives in research evidence, direct scarce public resources to programs with the strongest available evidence of effectiveness, and stimulate future research and program development by creating incentives for effective programs and rigorous research.

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This case study is for informational purposes only. Mathematica Policy Research, a nonpartisan research firm, provides a full range of research and data collection services, including program evaluation and policy research, survey design  and data collection, research assessment and interpretation, and program performance/data management, to improve public well-being. Its clients include federal and state governments, foundations, and private-sector and international organizations. The employee-owned company, with offices in Princeton, N.J.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Cambridge, Mass.; Chicago, Ill.; Oakland, Calif.; and Washington, D.C., has conducted some of the most important studies of education, disability, health care, family support, employment, nutrition, and early childhood policies and programs.

About the Project
In recent years, systematic reviews have been used to inform new policy initiatives, especially at the federal level, as well as funding decisions and program development.
Systematic reviews involve a thorough review of the research  literature on an issue, and use an objective and transparent approach to synthesize the research to determine the overall impacts of a program, policy, or practice.
Mathematica conducts systematic reviews across a range of disciplines. We develop and apply standards for assessing the quality and soundness of existing research, enabling clients and practitioners to use research more effectively in policy decisions and practice.