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Combining systematic review methods with philosophical analysis for a research ethics review: a case study in bridging disciplines

Date and Location




Sunday 22 September 2013 - 10:30 - 12:00


Presenting author and contact person

Presenting author

Judy Wright

Contact person

Judy Wright
Sandy Oliver
Abstract text
Background: A systematic review of the ethics of conducting research on preterm and sick neonates was commissioned to feed into the research project ‘Improving quality of care and outcome at very preterm birth’. The output was a systematic review of empirical ethics papers and a systematic review of analytical ethics papers. Review findings also informed the pilot randomised controlled trial design and the procedure for ethics review. Medical ethics questions are more usually addressed by philosophical analysis rather than by systematic review. We reflected on the benefits and challenges from working in a multi-disciplinary, multi-method systematic review. Objectives: To review: • contributions of the different disciplines • comparisons between philosophical and qualitative social science methodologies • challenges and solutions in reviewing from different perspectives • resulting advantages and disadvantages Methods: We captured reflections on the process of developing a systematic review for ethics. Data from diaries, interviews and meetings were collated to map methods used at each stage of the review and analysed. Results: Both disciplines used conceptual frameworks and aimed to provide impartial, unbiased results and conclusions. Philosophical analysis added informed questioning and detailed critique of the alternative arguments identified. Systematic review methods contributed explicit procedures and methodological rigour. The team had to become familiar with the methods, resources and terminology of other disciplines. Conclusions: It was possible to apply qualitative synthesis methods to the ethics review. Involving experts from different disciplines enabled appropriate use of methods and resources to achieve a robust review recognised by those disciplines. Developing understanding of the methods, resources and terminology of other disciplines requires effective communication and ‘extra’ time. Benefits include insights into alternative methods that could be applied to disciplines and creating a wider network of collaborators. Reflections on the review process improved communication and identified challenges and solutions.