We've got our head in realism this week, partly because early-bird registrations for the 2017 International Realist Conference close soon (Early-bird registration deadline has been extended until Thursday, September), and partly because we've been shown Chris Lysy's realist cartoon series (commissioned by the Rameses project) which made us giggle. You can view the full series of cartoons on the Rameses website, along with a number of other great resources about realist evaluation, including Ray Pawson's video series.
Realist evaluators argue that in order to be useful for decision makers, evaluations need to identify ‘what works in which circumstances and for whom?’, rather than merely ‘does it work?. The complete realist question is: “What works, for whom, in what respects, to what extent, in what contexts, and how?”. In order to answer that question, realist evaluators aim to identify the underlying generative mechanisms that explain ‘how’ the outcomes were caused and the influence of context. You can read more about this on our Realist Evaluation approach page, or you can watch Ray Pawson's overview in the video below (more in this video series via Rameses):
At the end of the 1st Realist Conference, back in 2014, Tiina Pasenan wrote about her conference take-aways. Three years later, we asked conference co-chair, Gill Westhorp, what participants could expect from this year's conference:
Realist research and evaluation provide ways of understanding how and why programmes and initiatives get different outcomes in different contexts and for different groups. There’s a real focus in this conference on the utility of realist approaches – not just whether they’re useful, but how to improve their usefulness for policy and programmes. The conference is designed to help build bridges between commissioners, users and those who undertake realist research and evaluation, and that in itself should also help to improve utility in the longer term.
For people who undertake evaluations, the conference presents the cutting edge of blending realist approaches with other evaluation approaches to answer particular kinds of evaluation questions. To give just a couple of examples, this includes integrating realist evaluation and economic evaluation and integrating realist evaluation and developmental evaluation. There’s been a lot of debate about realist evaluation and experimental or quasi-experimental approaches and there are presentations on blends in this area as well.
The pre-conference workshops provide concentrated skills development at every level from beginner to advanced, including skills areas that have never been presented at international realist conferences before. For example, there’s a workshop on combining realism and ethnography and another on quantitative methods in realist research and evaluation.
For people who design policies and initiatives, there are a number of presentations about methods for integrating ‘the realist questions’ into design. So rather than just thinking about what the intervention is supposed to do, realist design builds in and extends thinking through how the intervention will work, and why it might work differently in different contexts or for different populations. This of course enables a more rigorous design process which should in turn increase effectiveness, and potentially efficiency as well.
For people with policy and program management responsibilities, there are presentations which include findings from realist evaluations in health, Indigenous affairs, international development and environment and climate science. Because of the way realist evaluations are designed, the findings are likely to be portable to other settings.
Realist conferences have built a reputation, over the past few years, for being supportive, challenging, creative learning environments and this one we hope will continue and strengthen that tradition. Conference breaks and the social program are designed to support networking. Of course, Brisbane in the spring is an attraction in its own right.
The 2017 International Realist Conference runs from 24th October to 26th October 2017. You can register for the conference here.