AHRQ series on complex intervention systematic reviews—paper 2: defining complexity, formulating scope, and questions

Michael P. Kelly, Jane Noyes, Robert L. Kane, Christine Chang, Stacey Uhl, Karen A. Robinson, Stacey Springs, Mary E. Butler, Jeanne Marie Guise

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Scopus citations


Background The early stages of a systematic review set the scope and expectations. This can be particularly challenging for complex interventions given their multidimensional and dynamic nature. Rationale This paper builds on concepts introduced in paper 1 of this series. It describes the methodological, practical, and philosophical challenges and potential approaches for formulating the questions and scope of systematic reviews of complex interventions. Furthermore, it discusses the use of theory to help organize reviews of complex interventions. Discussion Many interventions in medicine, public health, education, social services, behavioral health, and community programs are complex, and they may not fit neatly within the established paradigm for reviews of straightforward interventions. This paper provides conceptual and operational guidance for these early stages of scope formulation to assist authors of systematic reviews of complex interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-18
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Clinical Epidemiology
StatePublished - Oct 2017



  • Complex interventions
  • Evidence-based medicine
  • Qualitative research
  • Research design
  • Review literature as topic
  • Systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology

Cite this