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Unpacking Context in Realist Evaluations: Findings from a Comprehensive Review

Sebastian Lemire, Abt Global; Steffen Bohni-Nielsen, National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Denmark; and Stinne Tangsig, Department of Health, Denmark.


November 4, 2021

Realist evaluation is an established approach in evaluation. The main reason for using realist evaluation is to uncover how, for whom, and under what conditions an intervention works. This is accomplished by empirically examining the inner mechanisms by which an intervention generates outcomes within a particular context. Despite the central role of context in realist evaluation, systematic knowledge about how context is conceptualized and applied in realist evaluation is limited. Informed by the findings of a comprehensive review, the aim of this article is to unpack how context is conceptualized in realist evaluations, the types of contextual factors examined as part of context–mechanism–outcome configurations, and the methodological challenges experienced by evaluators when examining these in realist evaluations. The article concludes with a discussion of conceptual and practical developments for future applications of realist evaluations.

Evaluation: The International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice - Online first

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