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Other resources

Realist research appraoches
Meta-narrative reviews
The relevance of realism in the COVID-19 pandemic
External websites
Video archive
Cartoons with a realist twist


Realist research approaches

Realistic Evaluation
Ray Pawson and Nick Tilley 1997
Sage, London

Evidence-Based Policy: A Realist Perspective
Ray Pawson 2006
Sage, London

The Science of Evaluation: A realist manifesto
Ray Pawson 2013
Sage, London


Meta-narrative reviews

Storylines of research in diffusion of innovation: a meta-narrative approach to systematic review
Trisha Greenhalgh, Glenn Robert, Fraser Macfarlane, Paul Bate, Olympia Kyriakidou, Richard Peacock
Social Science & Medicine Volume 61, Issue 2, July 2005, Pages 417-430


The relevance of realism in the COVID-19 pandemic

The spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus has thrown the world into crisis. Public health responses have been prolific, but the success of these interventions is uneven. As ever, we need to know what works for whom in what circumstances and in what respects. Realist approaches have been devised to answer this question and this working paper series is designed to promote this cause.

The series offers immediate readership and has no formal refereeing process. They are working papers in the sense that they are intended to raise hypotheses leading to more productive evidence. They may be developed (or indeed withdrawn), they may go on to be published in journals and books. Above all, they are attempts to provoke dialogue in the realist community and beyond.


Working Paper 1: The Coronavirus Response: Known Knowns, Known Unknowns, Unknown Unknowns
The paper makes use an infamous remark of Donald Rumsfeld on the unpredictability of policy choices as a forewarning on the perils that lay ahead in devising the coronavirus response. It was written in Feb 2020, ahead of the actual policy choices made and implemented in the UK. The authors’ guesswork on the challenges of lockdown do not, of course, match the complexities of the real thing. But that is the whole point – the policy response to the virus always involves guesswork and unknow unknows always lurk in wait. In the end we are often left with ‘muddling through’.


Working Paper 2: All models are wrong
George Box was a pioneer of statistical model building and so his tongue was partly in cheek when he first used this famous phrase: ‘All models are wrong, but some are useful’. Box’s essential idea was that the worth (or the inadequacy) of a model depended on the veracity (or the deficiency) of the many assumptions and estimates built into it. Epidemiological model builders have a central role in UK Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies. The UK policy response to the crisis has been guided by their projections on the likely course of the disease. This paper examines in close detail the assumptions built into one particularly influential model.


Working Paper 3: The Denial of Complexity in Developing the UK COVID-19 Response
A Complex Coronavirus Brainteaser: Has the interlocking, mutually dependent and sometimes competing stockpile of adaptive, self-transforming, interventions against the virus, each one with complex and sometimes contested guidance on its remit, as implemented and switched on and off by a changing array of central, local, private agencies, as shaped by competing political demands and factions, as digested by a diverse population containing people who variously support, comply, prevaricate, resist, grow weary, change their minds, and seek exceptions, succeeded in controlling the virus?


External websites

Additional resources on realist research may be found at:

ICARES - a website containing resources about realist evaluation and realist reviews in French

The realist hive

Theory-driven inquiry for health systems research

Realist synthesis: The website

Realism Leeds

Literature Searching for Realist Synthesis

The RAMESES mailing list Files Area


Video Archive

Professor Ray Pawson introducing realist evaluation
Whilst realist evaluation is primary research, many of its underpining principles are shared with realist reviews.

The Basics of realist evaluation -
This 14 min video is an edited down overview of the four video clips listed below and so contains some repetition content-wise.

Realist evaluation Part 1 - key principles (7 minutes) introduces the key elements of realist evaluation.

Realist evaluation Part 2 - tackling complexity (9 minutes) looks at how realist evaluation helps to address complexity in social programmes.

Realist evaluation Part 3 - types of evidence (8 minutes) looks at how the method makes use of evidence and the value of a multi-method approach.

Realist evaluation Part 4 - cumulative learning and scientific method (7.5 minutes) looks at how evaluation can better contribute to cumulative learning and employ scientific methods.

Thanks to Robin Vincent and Ray Pawson for these videos.


Professor Ray Pawson's 'Exaugural' Lecture
Ray Pawson compares evidence-based medicine (EBM) and evidence-based policy (EBP) in his entertaining lecture entitled:

Evidence-based Medicine & Evidence-based Policy: The world’s most perfectly developed method & the 79-pound weakling?


Cartoons with a realist twist

As part of the RAMESES II project we commissioned an illustrator, Chris Lysy of freshspecturm to provide us with cartoons for the resources and training materials for realist evaluations that had a realist twist. Please feel free to use these cartoons (they have been uploaded as full size images which you can save to your computer).