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In general terms, meta-analysis is a social science method that allows us to look at effectiveness across numerous evaluations of similar, but not necessarily identical, programs, strategies, or procedures. Meta-analysis examines conceptually similar approaches and answers the question, "on average, how effective are these approaches?" On, we use the term "practices" to refer to these categories of similar programs, strategies, or procedures and meta-analyses form the evidence-base for practices.

A more precise definition for meta-analysis is that it is the systematic quantitative analysis of multiple studies that address a set of related research hypotheses in order to draw general conclusions, develop support for hypotheses, and/or produce an estimate of overall program effects.