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Doing Realist Research


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Table of Contents

Introduction: Doing realist evaluation, synthesis and research - Nick Emmel, Joanne Greenhalgh, Ana Manzano, Mark Monaghan, and Sonia Dalkin Chapter 1: The middle range methodology of realist evaluation - Nick Tilley Chapter 2: Making up mechanisms in realist research - Malcolm Williams Realists need mechanisms, so what are they? The epistemology and ontology of mechanisms Measurement and evidence Some mechanisms Chapter 3: Understanding mechanisms in realist evaluation and research - Gill Westhorp Constructs of mechanism Mechanisms in evaluation Open systems Alternate constructs of mechanism Powers and liabilities Interactions Processes Reasoning and resources Multiple constructs of mechanism Mechanisms and the context-mechanism relationship Chapter 4: Making claims using realist methods - Brad Astbury Historical context Conducting realist evaluation: an illustration The set-up Enter middle-range theory Tricks of the realist trade Chapter 5: Theory and realist methods - Bruno Marchal, Guy Kegels and Sara Van Belle Using realist evaluation in HPSR in low-resource settings With which theory to start? How to elicit the initial programme theory Chapter 6: Researching complex large scale nested interventions - David Byrne Large scale interventions Defining boundaries Traces of the conditions of a system Chapter 7: Using realist approaches to explain the costs and cost-effectiveness of programmes - Rob Anderson, Rebecca Hardwick, Mark Pearson, and Richard Byng What are realist evaluations? What are economic evaluations? How are they different from realist evaluation? Measurement vs explanation/theory-building Creating localised vs generalizable knowledge What would more explanatory economic evaluation look like? Programme theories of cost-effectiveness - a worked example Refining the theories of cost-effectiveness Chapter 8: Data gathering for realist reviews - Geoff Wong Gathering data Relevant data Programme theory Rigour, data `quality' and more... Chapter 9: Scoping and searching to support realist approaches - Andrew Booth, Judy Wright and Simon Briscoe The "realist search" and synthesis Complementary searching techniques The role of the information specialist in supporting realist approaches Elements of a "realist search" Sources of programme theories Chapter 10: Evidence from realist research, its influence and impact - Mark Monaghan and Annette Boaz Impact debates The emergence of the systematic review Considering the emergence and reach of realist review Some provisional lessons from and for realist review Analysing impact Chapter 11: Realist research, guidelines and the politics of evidence - Mike Kelly EBM, clinical medicine and public health Epistemic shifts Developing the evidence base and guidelines in public health in practice Guideline development Realism and EBM meet realpolitik Chapter 12: Realist memorabilia - Ray Pawson The test of time CMO revisited Utilisation

About the Author

Nick Emmel teaches research methods and the sociology and social policy of international health and health care at the School of Sociology and Social Policy, the University of Leeds. He has conducted extensive research in the UK and India interpreting and explaining processes of vulnerability, with a focus on inequalities and inequities in health. Joanne Greenhalgh's current research has focused on applying realist evaluation and realist synthesis to the evaluation of healthcare policy and practice. She was a member of the RAMESES II project team to develop training material and reporting standards for realist evaluation.


This is the book the realist community has been asking for. It offers "tricks of the realist trade", with useful tips for realist researchers and evaluators in areas from eliciting program theory and data gathering to understanding mechanisms. Reading the book is like eavesdropping on leaders in the field as they discuss each others' work, and indicate future directions for realist approaches. -- Emma Williams
This book is a feast to read and work with. With hands-on advice about realist methods, utilization and fieldwork as well as in-depth discussions around mechanisms, theories, and epistemology, it deserves a very warm welcome from realist and social researchers alike. -- Frans L. Leeuw
I wish all social science researchers would read this book - and then think much more carefully about the way they design and enact research studies. It sets out clearly the ideas of realistic or theory-driven evaluation, and brings together great wisdom and experience in doing such evaluations in practice.
-- Kieran Walshe

This book successfully combines cutting-edge accounts of the application of realist research with important discussions about its scope. Its appeal is enhanced by the inclusion of significant reflections on the development and current state of play of realist enquiry.

-- Sam Porter
This book offers stimulating analyses of the development and application of a realist approach to evaluation, evidence synthesis, and empirical research generally. With illustrations from projects in which they have been involved, the authors illuminate key methodological topics, from the nature of causal mechanisms to the task of "impacting" on policymaking. Anyone with an interest in this approach, and especially in putting it into practice, will find the book essential reading.
-- Martyn Hammersley
This important book provides detailed, practical advice on using realist theories and methods in program evaluation and social research. In particular, it is pathbreaking in demonstrating the value of integrating qualitative and quantitative approaches in realist research. -- Joseph Maxwell

Doing Realist Research combines the foundations of the realist methodology with the very latest thinking in the application, and development, of the approach. From understanding mechanisms, and the formulation of programme theories, to understanding the role of complexity, and conducting economic evaluations. This engaging, easy to read book provides comprehensive advice and guidance for novices and experts alike.

-- Christina Cooper
The clear explanations of Programme Theories, Contexts and Mechanisms enable the novice realist researcher to understand the methodology and design their study effectively. There were a number of helpful hints presented, such as the online PubVenn tool that graphically represents the fruits of a literature search.

This is a must-have text-book for researchers undertaking a Realist Synthesis or a Realist Evaluation study, particularly masters and doctoral students -- Kate Jack * *

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