Realist evaluation is a form of theory-driven evaluation, based on a realist philosophy of science that addresses the questions, ‘what works, for whom, under what circumstances, and how’. It is against this backdrop that the University organized and successfully held the 1st Realist Evaluation Seminar in Africa presided over by Prof. Gill Westhorp from Charles Darwin University (Australia).
During the seminar, the participants were informed that the increased use of realist evaluation in the assessment of complex interventions is due to the realization by many evaluators and commissioners that coming up with solutions to complex problems is challenging and requires deeper insights into the nature of programmes and implementation contexts. These problems have multiple causes operating at both individual and societal levels, and the interventions or programmes designed to tackle such problems are themselves complex. They often have multiple, interconnected components delivered individually or targeted at communities or populations, with success dependent both on individuals’ responses and on the wider context. What works for one family, or organisation, or city may not work in another. Effective complex interventions or programmes are difficult to design and evaluate. Effective evaluations need to be able to consider how, why, for whom, to what extent, and in what context complex interventions work. Realist evaluations can address these challenges and have indeed addressed numerous topics of central relevance in health services research and other fields.