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An update on the systematic reviews

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Since our launch events in London and Manchester, we have been rolling our sleeves up and getting stuck in to our first two systematic reviews.

As Max and Joanna explained we are carrying out two pilot reviews – adult skills and business support – based on early conversations with users, (and which reflect some of the priority issues LEPs are grappling with at the moment as they produce their first round Strategic Economic Plans).

We’re running the two together, but slightly staggered, and we are testing out and, where necessary, tweaking our planned methodology as we go. We’re slightly further ahead at the moment with our adult skills review. These are pilots so, to an extent, we are feeling our way, but we expect to be publishing these two in spring of next year.

All of the thematic reviews will be overseen by our Director, Professor Henry Overman, as well as our academic panel. In addition to this, one member of the panel is allocated to each systematic review to oversee and assist in the process. For adult skills, we’re working particularly with Neil Lee and for business support we’re working with Helen Simpson and we have held inception meetings with each of them.

So far, October and November have seen the WWC team spending many bleary-eyed hours in front of the web portals of academic journals, library catalogues, and the websites of a wide variety of organisations – from government departments to international organisations such as OECD, the European Commission, and think tanks from around the world.

From this, for each topic, we have derived a long list of potentially relevant pieces of evidence. For both topics, this first pass of relevance has come out at 800+ pieces. We’ve then been sifting more closely for relevance based on abstracts – we’ve completed this process for adult skills and are in the middle of it now for business support. Once that’s done, it’s a further sift by methodology and then we’re down to a shortlist.

And, of course, we’re still receiving responses to our call for evidence and incorporating the results as we go, so it’s a rather more iterative process than that last paragraph makes it seem.

For the adult skills theme, we are down to about eighty relevant, quantitative articles and are in the process of assessing the 50 which we think rank most highly on the Maryland Scientific Methods Scale. The next stage, of course, is to start reading!

Just last week we held a round table session within the team doing some ‘double blind’ trial rankings of pieces of evidence against the scale, to ensure we’re being internally consistent within the team. Early 2014 will see us synthesizing findings, drafting reports and bouncing our early findings off the wider academic panel and our user panel.