Realist Evaluation: a theory driven approach.

Jennifer McGaughey

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Realistic Evaluation assumes that all programmes implemented in practice have an underlying theory to explain how a particular intervention is meant to work. The purpose of realist evaluation is to test the theoretical propositions underpinning the implementation of a programme in order to understand how and why it works, or might not work, in certain circumstances. The first stage of the realist evaluation is to track and articulate the programme theories to determine the evidence on the ‘official conjecture’ (Pawson et al 2004 pg 16) of how the programme is suppose to work in practice. These official conjectures are then tested and refined by gathering empirical evidence to establish causal relationships between a programme and its outcome. Evaluation of the factors and interactions between factors, supporting or hindering the implementation of a programme in practice facilitate theory refinement. Theory refinement is viewed as an iterative and cyclical process undertaken to synthesise the empirical evidence and develop mid-range theories which can be generalised and applied to other programmes to improve implementation and sustainability. In this symposium an example of realist evaluation used to test and refine the theory underpinning the implementation of Early Warning Systems (EWS) is provided to clarify how this theory driven approach can be applied in practice.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2012
EventQUB Realist Evaluation symposium - Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast, United Kingdom
Duration: 07 Nov 201207 Nov 2012


ConferenceQUB Realist Evaluation symposium
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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