Layering programme, pathway and substantive theories in realist evaluation

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Developing programme theory is an essential part of any realist project. Often researchers can struggle with this process of initial generation, particularly when theory from different levels of abstraction is desired or required. The RAMESES guidelines for synthesis state that excellent refinement of programme theory requires the relationship between the programme theory and relevant substantive theory to be identified. Furthermore, developing realist informed programme theories in CMO configurations can aid the researcher throughout the evaluation or synthesis process, however the operationalisation of this has not always been clear. Using the example of a realist evaluation of a Citizens Advice Bureau project we illustrate how programme theories were developed and how theory development can be layered in order to enhance sense making of how the programme works, for whom, in which circumstances. Thus we use programme, pathway and substantive theories to shape and enhance our understanding prior to data collection and theory testing. Programme theories consist of informed ‘hunches’ about how the programme works, which sat underneath a layer of pathway theories which were defined in the JRF report ‘How Does Money Influence Health’ (Benzeval et al., 2014). A range of substantive theories were identified using ‘ABC of Behaviour Change Theories’ (Michie et al., 2014) and the project teams own theory knowledge. Layering theories prior to testing using mixed methods allowed for (1) a greater understanding of the programme and (2) the testing of not only programme but also pathway and substantive theories. This demonstration of theory layering will help researchers to engage with substantive theory earlier in the realist research process and throughout.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 3 Oct 2016
EventCentre for the Advancement of Realist Evaluation and Synthesis (CARES) 2016 - London, UK
Duration: 3 Oct 2016 → …


ConferenceCentre for the Advancement of Realist Evaluation and Synthesis (CARES) 2016
Period3/10/16 → …
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