Operationalisation of realist synthesis as a PhD student; what works, for whom, and in what circumstances?

Susan Somervile, Christina Cooper, Sarah Wilmot, Sonia Dalkin, Monique Lhussier

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review

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Introduction: Operationalisation of realist methods can be challenging (Dalkin et al. 2015). Protocols and standards do exist in the literature to guide the process of realist informed research: Rycroft Malone et al (2012), Saul et al (2013), RAMESES (2013), Greenhalgh et al (2014) Blane et al (2015). However Realist methodologies are advocated for the exploration of complex interventions in a variety of subject areas and so are likely to require individually tailored approaches. This heterogeneity of process can affect the progress of novice realists, especially those who find themselves as doctoral students working more alone than is the norm in realist research. Objectives: This poster illustrates the approaches taken by three doctoral students undertaking realist synthesis as part of a PhD. The Projects: Project 1 - The mobile clinical skills and simulation facility was unique in the UK at the time of its launch, and is now the subject of a PhD (realist synthesis and realist evaluation). Published literature was very limited, so the revelation that doing stakeholder interviews was not considered primary data and was indorsed as part of a realist synthesis was a pivotal point in understanding and addressing the way forward in a realist synthesis of an intervention which at first appeared to be theory blind. Project 2 - Saul et al’s (2013) protocol for a rapid realist review (RRR) suggests a composition of essential team members. My RRR was undertaken as part of a PhD, therefore, instead of engaging a local reference group and expert panel throughout the RRR as Saul et al. (2013) suggest, guidance was sought from the PhD supervision team, who have a breadth of knowledge of care planning and realist methodology and thus fulfil the role of the local reference group and expert panel. Project 3 – As a PhD student new to both realist methods, and the subject area, prevention of risk behaviour in adolescents, a large amount of time was spent submerged in the literature. Unfamiliarity with the specifics of the subject impacted on both retroductive theorizing, and application to ethics in order to carry out consultations with key stakeholders. A key issue in this was reaching an agreement on when consultation becomes primary data in relation to research governance. Addressing and resolving methodological issues is an ongoing process. Discussion: Looking for a Realist review recipe is a natural yearning as a PhD student who is unfamiliar or uncertain about using this methodology. Three PhD students have undertaken different approaches to their realist studies modifying the standards, protocols and methods to find a bespoke way to explore their respective unique complex interventions with a realist lens. The acceptance of uncertainty and the importance of theorizing from a plethora of sources is fundamental for realist doctoral students.
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 → …
Internet address


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