Published 2018-04-10

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Mistra EviEM seeking to simplify research reviews

International programmers have been invited to Stockholm for a three-day workshop, a ‘hackathon’. Their assignment will be to help Mistra EviEM to simplify systematic reviews of research results.
‘We want to shorten the working time required to carry out systematic reviews and automate the work as much as possible. If these reviews become easier, the method will become more widely available,’ says Project Manager Neal Haddaway.

Can a group of computer programmers facilitate and improve evidence-based environmental management? Neal Haddaway, Project Manager at the Mistra Council for Evidence-Based Environmental Management (Mistra EviEM) and researcher at the Stockholm Environment Institute, hopes so. Jointly with Martin Westgate, a biologist at The Australian National University, he has launched EviEM Hackathon, which will run from 23 to 25 ​​April at the Stockholm Environment Institute.

‘We want to shorten the working time required to carry out systematic reviews and automate the work as far as possible. If systematic reviews become simpler, the method will also become available to more people,’ Haddaway says.

Interest in taking part has been great. This is despite the fact that the participants receive no compensation over and above the travel, board and lodging funded by Mistra EviEM and The Australian National University, which are co-organising the event. Thanks to marketing over the winter, especially via Facebook and Twitter, more than 50 people registered their interest.

‘That was far more than we expected,’ Haddaway says.

A total of 29 people have been invited to Stockholm. Most are proficient in programming; many also have a further specialist field, such as psychology, medicine, computer science or biology. The geographical spread of the participants, who come from both academia and industry, is large — Chile, Singapore, Nepal, South Africa and the UK are among the countries represented.

‘The participants will brainstorm together. Before they come here, they’ll have to read up about systematic reviews and what the needs are. Once in place, they will code and develop new software, in small groups or individually,’ Haddaway says.

Systematic review is a method of translating research results into evidence-based advice and policy recommendations for decision makers. The method has existed in medicine for a long time, but has now begun to be applied increasingly in other academic disciplines. Mistra EviEM has carried out a number of environmental research reviews since 2012. However, the work is highly resource-intensive — thousands of articles and reports are collected and analysed, and in addition, all steps in the process must be accounted for. A review requires a number of experts, and can take several years to complete.

Today, various computer-based aids already exist. But they are all commercial and expensive to use, Haddaway says. In addition, their source code is not open, so nobody can develop the programs further.

‘One condition for our hackathon is that the programs that emerge aren’t allowed to be commercialised. They have to be written in open source. We want new computer tools to be available to the whole of society.’

EviEM Hackathon is the first of its kind, but Neal Haddaway hopes the event will be a recurrent one, and has already begun planning a new hackathon in 2019.

Text: Henrik Lundström