Systematic Review of Methods in Low-Consensus Fields: Supporting Commensuration through `Construct-Centered Methods Aggregation’ in the Case of Climate Change Vulnerability Research
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AbstractThere is increasing interest in using systematic review to synthesize evidence on the social and environmental effects of and adaptations to climate change. Use of systematic review for evidence in this field is complicated by the heterogeneity of methods used and by uneven reporting. In order to facilitate synthesis of results and design of subsequent research a method, construct-centered methods aggregation, was designed to 1) provide a transparent, valid and reliable description of research methods, 2) support comparability of primary studies and 3) contribute to a shared empirical basis for improving research practice. Rather than taking research reports at face value, research designs are reviewed through inductive analysis. This involves bottom-up identification of constructs, definitions and operationalizations; assessment of concepts’ commensurability through comparison of definitions; identification of theoretical frameworks through patterns of construct use; and integration of transparently reported and valid operationalizations into ideal-type research frameworks. Through the integration of reliable bottom-up inductive coding from operationalizations and top-down coding driven from stated theory with expert interpretation, construct-centered methods aggregation enabled both resolution of heterogeneity within identically named constructs and merging of differently labeled but identical constructs. These two processes allowed transparent, rigorous and contextually sensitive synthesis of the research presented in an uneven set of reports undertaken in a heterogenous field. If adopted more broadly, construct-centered methods aggregation may contribute to the emergence of a valid, empirically-grounded description of methods used in primary research. These descriptions may function as a set of expectations that improves the transparency of reporting and as an evolving comprehensive framework that supports both interpretation of existing and design of future research.