AIMS: To explore how consultation exercises were described in a convenience sample of recent scoping reviews.
DESIGN: Critical literature review.
DATA SOURCES: We searched PsycINFO, Embase, CINAHL and PubMed in July 2020. Our inclusion criterion was a peer-reviewed journal article reporting a scoping review in Danish, English, Norwegian or Swedish.
REVIEW METHODS: We identified a convenience sample of articles (n = 66) reporting a consultation exercise as part of a scoping review. The descriptions of the consultation were charted, summarized and critically discussed.
RESULTS: The current analysis showed no widely accepted consensus on how to approach and report a consultation exercise in the sample of scoping reviews. The reports of stakeholder consultation processes were often brief and general, and often there were no reports of the effects of the stakeholder consultation processes. Further, there was no discussion of the principal theoretical problems mixing stakeholder voices and review findings.
CONCLUSION: The finding that conventional research ethics and research methods often were suspended could indicate that the stakeholder consultants were in a precarious position because of power imbalances between researchers and stakeholder consultants. We suggest that a consultation exercise should only be included when it genuinely invites participation and reports on the effect of alternative voices.
IMPACT: Scoping reviews are common across a range of disciplines, but they often lack definitional and methodological clarity. In their influential approach to scoping studies, Arksey and O'Malley introduced an optional 'consultation exercise', which has been heralded as a valuable tool that can be used to strengthen the process and outcome of a scoping study and to support the dissemination of the study's findings and its implications. However, there is no clear outline on about how to operationalize consultations of stakeholders in scoping studies/reviews. This article includes recommendations for consultation exercises, including encouraging an aspirational move from 'consultation' to 'participation'.