Systematic reviews and meta-analyses (based on systematic reviews) are considered “gold standard” for knowledge and evidence synthesis.
However, their main limitation is the significant amount of time and resources that are usually required to produce a high-quality comprehensive systematic review or meta-analysis. Thus, they may not be feasible when evidence or knowledge summaries are required within a relatively short timeframes or on a limited budget.
The authors propose rapid reviews as an alternative synthesis method suitable for the field of built environment. Rapid reviews are, basically, “systematic reviews with shortcuts”. In rapid reviews, sacrifices are made to the synthesis process, for example, comprehensiveness of the data search and / or the depth of assessment of the found evidence. However, the key principles of the systematic review approach should be followed, especially the ones safeguarding transparency of the review methods and findings. In this sense, the rapid review methodology is universal and transferable across the disciplines. However, most systematic review and rapid review guidelines are written for the medical and social sciences and are tailored to the question and data types encountered in these disciplines. Built environment research is cross-disciplinary, and while for some topics the available guidelines may provide a good fit, more general plain-language guidelines are also needed.
Well-conducted rapid reviews can provide evidence inventories and assessments of evidence that can inform downstream investigation and decision-making. They help deciding whether to proceed with a full systematic review, re-focus on specific aspects of the evidence or direct future primary research. Rapid reviews can be useful for guideline development and form the evidence basis for urgent policy changes within specific settings.
The authors aim to provide the reader with an understanding of what rapid review is, when rapid reviews might be useful, and the core concepts of the systematic review process, in a way that is accessible to people with various backgrounds. The authors include tips on how to conduct rapid review efficiently and list references to useful resources, e.g. software and more specialised reading.
This guide is aimed for the teams who conduct rapid reviews on topics and questions not just for their own use (or publication in an academic journal), but also for stakeholders (or “end users of reviews”; usually policymakers or practitioners). Thus, the authors consider the stakeholders and fulfilling their requirements as an important and integral aspect of a rapid review process. However, this guide does not cover rapid review commissioning and dissemination stages.