AHRQ series on complex intervention systematic reviews—paper 3: adapting frameworks to develop protocols

Mary Butler, Richard A. Epstein, Annette Totten, Evelyn P. Whitlock, Mohammed T. Ansari, Laura J. Damschroder, Ethan Balk, Eric B. Bass, Nancy D. Berkman, Susanne Hempel, Suchitra Iyer, Karen Schoelles, Jeanne Marie Guise

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Background Once a proposed topic has been identified for a systematic review and has undergone a question formulation stage, a protocol must be developed that specifies the scope and research questions in detail and outlines the methodology for conducting the systematic review. Rationale Framework modifications are often needed to accommodate increased complexity. We describe and give examples of adaptations and alternatives to traditional analytic frameworks. Discussion This article identifies and describes elements of frameworks and how they can be adapted to inform the protocol and conduct of systematic reviews of complex interventions. Modifications may be needed to adapt the population, intervention, comparators, and outcomes normally used in protocol development to successfully describe complex interventions; in some instances, alternative frameworks may be better suited. Possible approaches to analytic frameworks for complex interventions that illustrate causal and associative linkages are outlined, including time elements, which systematic reviews of complex interventions may need to address. The need for and specifics of the accommodations vary with details of a specific systematic review. This in turn helps determine whether traditional frameworks are sufficient, can be refined, or if alternate frameworks must be adopted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)19-27
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Clinical Epidemiology
StatePublished - Oct 2017


  • Analytic frameworks
  • Complex interventions
  • Evidence-based medicine
  • Research design
  • Review literature as topic
  • Systematic reviews

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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