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Doing Realist Research

Doing Realist Research

Edited by:

June 2018 | 272 pages | SAGE Publications Ltd

Bringing together leading theorists, researchers and policy makers with expertise in using realist methods, this book is a definitive guide to putting realist methodologies into practice.

Not just an overview of the field, this book looks to extend current debates and apply realist methods to new and practical challenges in social research. Featuring practical, worked examples of how to turn theory into evidence, it empowers readers not just to understand realist methods, but to use them.

It will help readers:

- Negotiate the complexity of relational systems

- Understand the importance and relevance of cumulative theory

- Address concerns over data sources and quality

- Be flexible and creative in realist approaches   

- Produce useful evidence for policy.

Sophisticated and globally minded, this book is the perfect addition to the ongoing development and application of realist methods across evaluation, synthesis, and social research.  

Nick Emmel, Joanne Greenhalgh, Ana Manzano, Mark Monaghan, and Sonia Dalkin
Introduction: Doing realist evaluation, synthesis and research
Nick Tilley
Chapter 1: The middle range methodology of realist evaluation
Malcolm Williams
Chapter 2: Making up mechanisms in realist research
Realists need mechanisms, so what are they?

The epistemology and ontology of mechanisms

Measurement and evidence

Some mechanisms

Gill Westhorp
Chapter 3: Understanding mechanisms in realist evaluation and research
Constructs of mechanism

Mechanisms in evaluation

Open systems

Alternate constructs of mechanism

Powers and liabilities



Reasoning and resources

Multiple constructs of mechanism

Mechanisms and the context-mechanism relationship

Brad Astbury
Chapter 4: Making claims using realist methods
Historical context

Conducting realist evaluation: an illustration

The set-up

Enter middle-range theory

Tricks of the realist trade

Bruno Marchal, Guy Kegels and Sara Van Belle
Chapter 5: Theory and realist methods
Using realist evaluation in HPSR in low-resource settings

With which theory to start?

How to elicit the initial programme theory

David Byrne
Chapter 6: Researching complex large scale nested interventions
Large scale interventions

Defining boundaries

Traces of the conditions of a system

Rob Anderson, Rebecca Hardwick, Mark Pearson, and Richard Byng
Chapter 7: Using realist approaches to explain the costs and cost-effectiveness of programmes
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

Geoff Wong
Chapter 8: Data gathering for realist reviews
Gathering data

Relevant data

Programme theory

Rigour, data ‘quality’ and more...

Andrew Booth, Judy Wright and Simon Briscoe
Chapter 9: Scoping and searching to support realist approaches
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

Mark Monaghan and Annette Boaz
Chapter 10: Evidence from realist research, its influence and impact
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

Mike Kelly
Chapter 11: Realist research, guidelines and the politics of evidence
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

Ray Pawson
Chapter 12: Realist memorabilia
The test of time

CMO revisited



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
Credentialed Evaluator, Charles Darwin University

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
Professor of Law, Public Policy and Social Science Research, Maastricht University

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
Professor of Health Policy & Management, University of Manchester

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
Professor of Nursing Sociology, Head of Department of Social Sciences and Social Work, Bournemouth University

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
Faculty of Wellbeing, Education & Language Studies, The Open University

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
Education, George Mason University

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
Northumbria University

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
Nursing Times

In using this book to inform my own research, in both public health and education, it was debates around the conceptualization of mechanisms (a central tenet in realist research), and the role of mechanisms within complex interventions and complex social environments which most captured my interest. These early chapters embody Campbell’s (1998) ‘disputative body of scholars’ as the widely accepted definition of mechanism is challenged, debated, and adapted to meet the needs of the research presented

Christina Cooper
Newcastle University
International Journal of Research & Method in Education

Excellent text, builds on previous work in an accessible, user-friendly but academically rigorous style.

Mrs Helen Frances Stanley
Westlain House, Brighton University
August 10, 2020

Nick Emmel

Joanne Greenhalgh

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.  More About Author

Ana Manzano

Mark Monaghan

Sonia Dalkin

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ISBN: 9781473977891
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