What makes questions suitable for reviews?

For a question to be considered for review by Mistra EviEM, it had to be relevant to Swedish environmental conditions. Moreover, it should apply to an area in which improved knowledge could make a major difference to environmental management. In addition, to be at all suitable for a systematic review a question has to be carefully formulated.

Subject definition essential

Many stakeholders in environmental management would like to see investigations of whole problem areas — eutrophication, genetically modified organisms, ecosystem services or the like. But in such wide-ranging fields it may be difficult to summarise and compare all available research findings in a systematic way.

Systematic reviews usually cover considerably more specific topics. They are used, for example, to answer questions of the following type: ‘How far is A affected by action or disturbance B?’ or ‘Is method C an effective way of bringing about D?’ Simplifying somewhat, it may be said that the question should preferably be a ‘closed-frame’ one, which may be answered with an outcome measure or quite simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

If the aim is to conduct a systematic review in an extensive problem area, one may therefore need to limit this area or divide it into a series of separate questions.

Criteria for suitable questions

For there to be any point in carrying out a systematic review, the question should concern an area in which the scientific results are incompletely surveyed (or perhaps disputed) but where some grounds for conclusions nonetheless exist.

Questions may be especially relevant if they meet additional criteria, such as that they:
• are controversial or have attracted particular attention
• concern priorities in environmental policy
• relate to new forms of environmental impact, change or management inputs
• touch on impact or environmental management measures relating to valuable natural assets and/or extensive parts of Sweden
• concern environmental management measures that are particularly costly or otherwise require ample resources
• relate to measures that in some respects favour the environment but in others may be unfavourable
• touch on environmental problems that are currently remedied by means of several alternative methods.