Understanding mechanisms in realist evaluation and research

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    This chapter revisits three inter-related issues in realist philosophy and realist social science: the nature of mechanisms; the nature of open systems; and the relationships between contexts and mechanisms in open systems. It explains why mechanisms are ‘invisible’ and the implications for doing realist research. It argues that – like all things realist – the ‘reasoning and resources’ construct of programme mechanisms (Pawson & Tilley, 1997) only ‘works’ in some contexts and that other constructs may be necessary for understanding whether and how some types, or aspects, of policies and programmes work. The chapter examines for what tasks and types of evaluation research Pawson and Tilley’s construct of program mechanisms is most appropriate and explores four alternative constructs: powers and liabilities, forces, interactions and processes. Examples include self-esteem as a context, a mechanism and an outcome in youth programmes; and how public disclosure initiatives identifying ‘under-performance’ or ‘deviant behaviour’ work.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationDoing realist research
    EditorsNick Emmel, Joanne Greenhalgh, Ana Manzano, Mark Monaghan, Sonia Dalkin
    Place of PublicationLondon
    PublisherSAGE Publications Ltd
    Number of pages16
    ISBN (Electronic)9781526485472
    ISBN (Print)9781473977891, 9781473977894
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


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