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The involvement of non‐researcher contributors (eg, stakeholders, patients and the public, decision and policy makers, experts, lay contributors) has taken a variety of forms within evidence syntheses. Realist reviews are a form of evidence synthesis that involves non‐researcher contributors yet this practice has received little attention. In particular, the role of patient and public involvement (PPI) has not been clearly documented. This review of reviews describes the ways in which contributor involvement, including PPI, is documented within healthcare realist reviews published over the last five years. A total of 448 papers published between 2014 and 2019 were screened, yielding 71 full‐text papers included in this review. Statements about contributor involvement were synthesized across each review using framework analysis. Three themes are described in this article including nomenclature, nature of involvement, and reporting impact. Papers indicate that contributor involvement in realist reviews refers to stakeholders, experts, or advisory groups (ie, professionals, clinicians, or academics). Patients and the public are occasionally subsumed into these groups and in doing so, the nature and impact of their involvement become challenging to identify and at times, is lost completely. Our review findings indicate a need for the realist review community to develop guidance to support researchers in their future collaboration with contributors, including patients and the public. Highlights: Evidence synthesis methods often involve a number of different non‐researcher contributors throughout the research project lifecycle. There are varied and multiple ways of involving contributors. Realist review approaches do not always make contributor involvement explicit, in particular patient and public involvement. This review synthesizes the ways in which contributors have been involved in realist reviews, including patients and the public. Based on our study findings, we emphasize a clear need to identify who contributors are, when they are involved and how, so that their impact is not lost in future realist reviews. For readers both inside and outside of the realist research community, we encourage reflection, collaboration, and development of further guidelines that help to recognize contributor involvement in a number of different forms and structures.

More information Original publication




Journal article


Research Synthesis Methods


Wiley: Research Synthesis Methods

Publication Date



Evidence Synthesis Working Group. Project 390