Realist matrix

A realist matrix focuses on the causal mechanisms at work in a programme or project. It specifies what exactly in the programme creates the outcomes, and under what conditions.

Realist matrices are a complementary approach to outcomes chains and other programme logic models.

A realist matrix will include:

  • Agency: Whose actions exactly are causing the change to occur?
  • Context: considers the external variables or ‘moderators’ that affect outcomes, including the impact of the social and political situation
  • Resources being provided
  • Mechanism: How the resources and the thing/person being changed interact
  • The outcome: What the anticipated change is under the specified conditions

Outcomes are understood to be the result of the interaction between resources being provided and the way that participants respond to these. This interaction is influenced by the context, and the response will be different under different conditions, so a realist matrix helps answer the question ‘what works for whom under what conditions?’

A realist matrix is usually presented in the form of a table, with columns representing the fields listed above (Funnel and Rogers, 2011).


Example of a Realist Matrix Logic Model of a Computer Project taken from Funnell & Rogers (2011, p. 249).




Conscientious students with strong literacy skills but no prior computer experience

Skill development

Achieve a threshold level of computer skills that makes it possible to start an internship

Students with literacy and numeracy problems and poor behaviour

Skill development does not occur

Do not achieve a threshold levels of computer skills

Students with existing computer experience, skills and confidence

Skill development does not occur.

No change to level of skills

Advice for choosing this method

Think about which programme outcomes are most susceptible to being influenced by external factors and conditions. How will the mechanism at work change under different conditions, and with what affect on the outcome?

Advice for using this method

Think about how you can use the matrix to improve the effectiveness of your programme. Given what you know about the impact of context on casual mechanisms, what risks to programme outcomes exist and how can these be mitigated? Under what conditions will the desired outcomes be achieved how can these conditions be encouraged? If the most important external conditions cannot be changed, think about which approach, agents and resources are most effective under the prevailing conditions.




Funnell, S., & Rogers, P. (2011). Purposeful program theory: Effective use of theories of change and logic models. (ch 7). San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Milstein, B and Chapel, T. (2011) ‘Developing a Logic Model or Theory of Change’, The Community Tool Box, Work Group for Community Health and Development, University of Kansas, retrieved from

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