Realist impact evaluation is an approach to impact evaluation that emphasises the importance of context for programme outcomes. This introduction will help evaluators and commissioners of evaluations to decide whether a realist approach is appropriate for evaluating the impact of a particular policy or programme.
Realist impact evaluation draws on the realism school of philosophy. Realist approaches to evaluation assume that nothing works everywhere or for everyone: context really does make a difference to programme outcomes. It describes five key ideas which frame realism and their implications for impact evaluation. It explains when a realist impact evaluation may be most appropriate and outlines how to design and conduct an impact evaluation based on a realist approach.
The paper will be useful for evaluators and commissioners of evaluations to decide whether a realist approach is appropriate or feasible for evaluating a particular programme or policy; as well as for anyone interested in understanding a realist approach to impact evaluation.
This publication was co-produced by BetterEvaluation, ODI, and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) as part of the Methods Lab project.
Westhorp, G. (2014) 'Realist impact evaluation: an introduction'. Methods Lab. London: Overseas Development Institute.