Realist synthesis: illustrating the method for implementation research

This paper, written by Jo Rycroft-Malone, Brendan McCormack, Alison M Hutchinson, Kara DeCorby, Tracey K Bucknall,Bridie Kent, Alyce Schultz, Erna Snelgrove-Clarke, Cheryl B Stetler, Marita Titler, Lars Wallin and Val Wilson describes the process used for a realist review and synthesis in informing evidence based decisions and implementation methods in health care. It also considers the strengths and challenges of using realist synthesis.


"The range of approaches to research review and synthesis has been growing over recent years [1]. One approach that has been growing in popularity is realist synthesis. A realist review focuses on understanding and unpacking the mechanisms by which an intervention works (or fails to work), thereby providing an explanation, as opposed to a judgment about how it works [2]. The realist approach is fundamentally concerned with theory development and refinement [2-4], accounting for context as well as outcomes in the process of systematically and transparently synthesizing relevant literature [3,4]. Given the complex, multifaceted nature of strategies and interventions used to promote evidence-informed healthcare, and the current limited understanding of their mechanisms of action, the realist approach is particularly suited to the synthesis of evidence about complex implementation interventions. Whilst the use of this method is increasing and the evidence base growing [5-8], few published studies provide a detailed account of how it has been used. This paper therefore adds to the methodological evidence base about realist synthesis by describing application of the approach of an international project team (Realist Synthesis of Implementation Strategies (ReS-IS) to synthesise evidence about knowledge translation interventions for enabling evidence-informed healthcare." (Rycroft-Malone et al., 2012)


Rycroft-Malone et al., (2012). 'Realist synthesis: illustrating the method for implementation research', Implementation Science, 7:33. Retrived from

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