Advisory groups

Systematic reviews are likely to be more relevant to the end user and of higher quality if they are informed by advice from people with a range of experiences, in terms of both the topic and the methodology (Khan 2001, Rees 2004, Thomas 2004). As the priorities of decision-makers and consumers may be different from those of authors, it is important that authors address the questions of importance to stakeholders and include relevant interventions, outcomes and populations. It may be useful to form an advisory group of people, including representation of relevant stakeholders, with relevant interests, skills and commitment. This may be of greater importance in reviews anticipated to be of high impact or for reviews of complex interventions relevant to diverse settings. Box 2.3a outlines an example of where an advisory group was used to benefit a review.


The input of the advisory group will need to be coordinated by the review team to inform key review decisions. The Effective Public Health Practice Project, Canada, has found that six members can cover all areas and is manageable for public health reviews (Effective Public Health Practice Project 2007). However, the broader the review, the broader the experience required of advisory group members.


It is important to consider the needs of resource-poor countries in the review process. To increase the relevance of systematic reviews, authors could also consult people in developing countries to identify priority topics on which reviews should be conducted (Richards 2004). It may also be important to include vulnerable and marginalized people in the advisory group (Steel 2001) in order to ensure that the conclusions regarding the value of the interventions are well informed and applicable to all groups in society.  


Terms of reference, job descriptions or person specifications for an advisory group may be developed to ensure there is clarity about the task(s) required. Examples are provided in briefing notes for researchers (Hanley 2000)or at the INVOLVE web site (www.invo.org.uk). Advisory group members may be involved in one or more of the following tasks: