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Oxford: Realist Reviews and Realist Evaluation

This module will provide participants with an understanding of realist review (or synthesis) and realist evaluation. Participants should then be able to apply their new knowledge and skills to their own realist research project, regardless of which field of research they come from. 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. Realist research approaches (realist evaluation or realist review) can help make sense of these types of interventions or programmes. The approaches are theory driven – developing 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 the primary data comes from documents (e.g. studies, policy documents and so on) and so it is a form of secondary research.

United Kingdom
14th November, 2016 to 18th November, 2016
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The overall aims of the course are to enable students to:

  • Appreciate the key underpinning principle of realism
  • Understand the implications of taking a realist approach on knowledge claims and realist research project design and processes
  • Be able to explain when a realist review or realist evaluation would be the correct approach to use
  • Be able to describe the stages of a realist review and realist evaluation
  • Be able to focus a realist review or evaluation
  • Understand the role of programme theory in realist review and evaluation and be able to develop and refine one
  • Know how to collect relevant data for realist reviews and realist evaluations
  • Develop data extraction processes for realist reviews and realist evaluations
  • Be confident in their ability to apply a realist logic of analysis to data
  • Have an awareness of the challenges of developing and getting funding for a realist research project
  • Be able to explain who and why to recruit to a realist research project team
  • Describe and explain the pros and cons of using quality and publication standards in realist research

Programme details

This module is run over an eight week cycle where the first week is spent working on introductory activities using a Virtual Learning Environment, the second week is spent in Oxford for the face to face teaching week (this takes place on the dates advertised), there are then four Post-Oxford activities (delivered through the VLE) which are designed to help you write your assignment. You then have a week of personal study and you will be required to submit your assignment electronically the following week (usually on a Tuesday at 14:00 UK Local Time).


Geoffrey Wong is a Clinical Research Fellow at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences.