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Realist evaluation is a form of theory-driven evaluation, but is set apart by its explicit philosophical underpinnings.
Pawson and Tilley (1997) developed the first realist evaluation approach, although other interpretations have been developed since. Pawson and Tilley argued 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.