Identifying and resolving the frustrations of reviewing the improvement literature: The experiences of two improvement researchers

Emma Jones*, Joy Furnival, Wendy Carter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
12 Downloads (Pure)


Background and aims: Summarising quality improvement (QI) research through systematic literature review has great potential to improve patient care. However, heterogeneous terminology, poor definition of QI concepts and overlap with other scientific fields can make it hard to identify and extract data from relevant literature. This report examines the compromises and pragmatic decisions that undertaking literature review in the field of QI requires and the authors propose recommendations for literature review authors in similar fields.

Methods: Two authors (EJ and JF) provide a reflective account of their experiences of conducting a systematic literature review in the field of QI. They draw on wider literature to justify the decisions they made and propose recommendations to improve the literature review process. A third collaborator, (WC) co-created the paper challenging author's EJ and JF views and perceptions of the problems and solutions of conducting a review of literature in QI.

Results: Two main challenges were identified when conducting a review in QI. These were defining QI and selecting QI studies. Strategies to overcome these problems include: select a multi-disciplinary authorship team; review the literature to identify published QI search strategies, QI definitions and QI taxonomies; Contact experts in related fields to clarify whether a paper meets inclusion criteria; keep a reflective account of decision making; submit the protocol to a peer reviewed journal for publication.

Conclusions: The QI community should work together as a whole to create a scientific field with a shared vision of QI to enable accurate identification of QI literature. Our recommendations could be helpful for systematic reviewers wishing to evaluate complex interventions in both QI and related fields.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere000701
Number of pages9
JournalBMJ open quality
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jul 2019

Bibliographical note

This work was completed with support from three PhD improvement science studentships for EJ, JF and WC from the Health Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Author(s).


  • complexity
  • continuous quality improvement
  • quality improvement

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Leadership and Management
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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