Collaborative working: learnings from the initial stages of a Systematic Review 

Believe it or not, there are a lot of parallels between the initial stages of a Systematic Review and collaborative working. Systematic Review is just a fancy way to describe a summary of existing evidence in a systematic way to help answer a research question.  

As one of its outputs, Go Higher West Yorkshire’s (GHWY) Black Asian and Minoritised Ethnic Students Network is currently conducting such a review to answer the question: What factors act as barriers and facilitators for Black, Asian and Minoritised Ethnicity students accessing HE?   

The Network meets three times a year to work towards collaborative outputs, share best practice, and discuss common challenges, among other things. The purpose of the Systematic Review is to update our knowledge base and take an evidence-based approach to supporting these students. It also allows us to review existing research. 

Based on learnings from this activity, below are five ways that collaborative working matches the early stages of undertaking a Systematic Review.  

1. Don’t reinvent the wheel 

One of the first things we did before embarking on a Systematic Review was to look at what research exists out there already. There’s no need to start from scratch and re-invent the wheel if you don’t have to. In the case of a Systematic Review, it was decided as a group to update the existing research, some of which was a decade old, and use that as the basis for the question.  

2. Embrace the diversity 

At GHWY, we are proud of the diversity of our 13 HE members. These include single site and multiple site institutions; those that are a university, a conservatoire, or HE-in-FE (Higher Education in Further Education) provider. When deciding on the search terms for the systematic review, we captured this diversity in terms such as HE-in-FE, mature learners and first-generation students. Collaborative working is all about ensuring that people have their say and feel represented in the outputs they work towards. 

3. Different perspectives 

One of the things we emphasised right from the start was that members of the working group, who are drawn from across our 13 members, did not have to be academics to be involved with the Systematic Review. This would allow those involved to develop their skills. By embracing different perspectives, it also reduces the researcher bias. 

4. Plan and delegate work 

A Systematic Review is a big task and if working collaboratively it helps to have a timeline and to delegate work. There are some parts that need to be done before others, such as deciding on the inclusion and exclusion criteria for research before an initial search. One criterion we agreed was to exclude any papers that could not identify Black, Asian and Minoritised Ethnic groups separately. We did not want the data to be aggregated and the groups to be seen as homogenous when they are separate. 

5. Keep people updated 

Whilst we have a working group for the Systematic Review, it would not always make sense to meet as a big group. The sub-set of people responsible for extracting key information on the characteristics of studies (e.g. sample size; year of publication; aim; ethnic group) may want to meet as a group and then report back. 

We hope this got you thinking about collaborative working!  

We will be looking to present initial findings, once ready, at relevant events/conferences with a view to obtaining a published paper on our research. If you would like to be involved in the Systematic Review or find out more, please get in touch with me at 


Tahera Mayat, GHWY Collaborative Outreach Officer