By Andrew Hawkins, Sue Leahy, Fiona Christian, Melanie Darvodelsky
Do you want to know what happened or what works? What works on average or what works, for whom, under what circumstances, and how?
Realist evaluation moves beyond simplistic notions of programs as either working or not. It takes a more scientific approach – aiming to understand the mechanisms within programs that have casual power, and the situations in which these are active to generate (demi) regular outcomes.
ARTD has a commitment to realist evaluation, recognising that it can help government agencies and non-government organisations to better design and target interventions and identify the mechanisms that are crucial in any further rollout of a program. This is why we sponsored and attended the 2017 International Conference for Realist Research, Evaluation and Synthesis held in Brisbane last week.
There were keynote speakers from the pioneers of realist evaluation – Nick Tilley and Ray Pawson – as well as presentations and workshops Australian realist thinkers Gill Westhorp and our own Director Andrew Hawkins. As conference attendees ranged from experts to novices, there was a strong focus on how a realist approach could be applied in the real world.
So, what were the key take-outs?
As realist theory can be heavy going and the jargon difficult for the uninitiated, we see a key challenge for realists as translating the concepts into the concrete and convincing evaluation funders that realism can help them in practical ways. After seeing the ‘lightbulb’ moments among conference participants, we’re confident that this can happen. Let’s continue the conversation between now and the next conference.