In health care and many other fields of research, interventions are often described as being complex and have outcomes that are dependent on context. When these complex interventions fail to achieve their desired outcomes, the explanation frequently provided is because they are both complex and context dependent.
Does that then mean we are powerless in the face of complexity and context? Or are there ways of making sense of the outcome patterns we might get from complex interventions or programmes?
One approach to making sense of these types of interventions or programmes is to use realist research approaches – realist evaluation and realist review. Realist research approaches are theory driven – that is they develop structurally coherent explanations of interventions and test these against empirical data. In realist evaluation the researcher or evaluator’s task is to gather the data – i.e. it is a form of primary research. Whereas in realist review (or synthesis – the terms are synonymous) the primary data comes from documents (e.g. studies, policy documents and so on) and so it is a form of secondary research (or evidence synthesis).
This module begins by introducing learners to the underpinning assumptions of realism that influence realist approaches to research. As the module progresses, through mini-lectures, small group work, discussion and practice, learners are given the opportunity to consolidate their learning of how to undertake a realist evaluation and realist review.
If you want to know how, why, for whom, to what extent and in what contexts complex interventions or programmes ‘work’, then this module is for you.
Dr Geoff Wong, coordinator of Realist Reviews and Realist evaluation – a new accredited short course – please click here for more information.