The focus of this one-day workshop was to build practical skills to conduct a realist evaluation for international development projects and programmes. The rapidly changing context of development assistance in recent years combined with growing pressure on policymakers to demonstrate value for money has led to criticism that many impact evaluation approaches lack rigour or fail to respond to this complex and shifting environment. Over the last decade this has led to a surge of interest in exploring alternative, yet still robust, approaches to impact evaluation.
Tiina Pasanen is a Research Officer for the Research and Policy in Development (RAPID) Programme at the Overseas Development Programme (ODI). In this blog, Tiina shares her top three realist ‘take-aways’ from the 1st International Conference on Realist Approaches to Evaluation and reflects on when or how realist evaluation may be most useful.
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.