Background: systematic reviews (SRs) are resource-intensive, requiring several years to complete on average. Over recent decades, there has been an exponential increase in the volume of published primary research, challenging the efficiency and timeliness of SRs. Rigorous systematic reviews must spend more and more resources in order to synthesize a given topic as evidence continues to expand. Technology may support and improve evidence syntheses in the face of this evidence avalanche by: simplifying review conduct; assisting transparency; supporting group working; increasing efficiency by supplementing or taking over certain tasks; and, increasing rigour. However, Evidence Synthesis Technologies (ESTech; innovative tools and techniques designed to support evidence synthesis conduct) are typically produced in isolation by small groups of researchers and coders working within specific disciplines. ESTech softwares typically have little to no long-term support, and many are hidden behind paywalls.
Objectives: a concerted effort to foster an active community of linked researchers and coders working on ESTech is therefore needed to reduce redundancy, increase interoperability, and ensure needs-driven approaches to software development. We set out to create a community and provide a platform for continued collaboration on ESTech.
Methods: the Evidence Synthesis Hackathon (ESH) is a series of interactive workshops bringing together experts in systematic review and programming to brainstorm and code new technologies to support evidence synthesis. The ESH is guided by Open Synthesis (Open Science in evidence synthesis), producing tools to increase transparency, efficiency, repeatability, rigour and accessibility.
Results: the ESH has now been run three times since January 2018, and has produced a range of outputs to support evidence synthesis across disciplines. Some of these are traditional softwares, whilst others are conceptual papers discussing fundamental issues relevant to evidence synthesis infrastructure and methodology. The ESH has received broad support from across and within the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence, the Campbell Collaboration and Cochrane.
Conclusions: we demonstrate that the ESH is a fit-for-purpose network for needs-driven development of tools and techniques to increase the rigour and efficiency of evidence synthesis. We call for continued engagement from the evidence synthesis community in suggesting areas where technology is needed and in joining and funding future ESH events.
Patient or healthcare consumer involvement: ESH projects have not yet interfaced with patients or healthcare consumers, focusing rather on evidence commissioners, producers and decision-makers. Specific projects may need to engage with end users, however, for example when visualising evidence. This will be a required part of any relevant future ESH project.