Interviewing in Realist Evaluation

Just a quick post with some reflections on Dr. Ana Manzano’s seminar last week (8 Feb 2017) at the University of Leeds on The craft of interviewing in realist evaluation.  It’s a great benefit to have the Realism Leeds team one-hour away and they have a busy programme of other sessions planned for 2017 – keep track via the @RealismLeeds twitter. It was a great talk and nice to meet Ana and members of the team!

Firstly, Ana shared how she is frequently asked how to describe a realist interview, and that it comes back to how you approach the interview to begin with.

Recognising the importance of context – mechanisms – outcomes (CMO) to realist evaluation, preparing for interviews involves thinking about the CMO of the programme / phenomena in advance to get a broad idea of the lines of enquiry. However, it is important to not set them in stone.

One of the key characteristics of a realist interview is treating it as an open card game. Rather than the interviewer retaining prior knowledge close to their chest and acting with false naiveté (with the intention of avoiding data contamination), realist interviews are more of a shared journey between interviewer and interviewee with knowledge being laid out on the table in an effort to improve understanding of the programme theory between both parties.

Importantly, this makes realist interviewing more of an iterative process where the lines of enquiry and CMO focus may be refined over the course of a programme of interviews.  This process of eliciting the programme theory involves theory gleaning, theory refining/testing and theory consolidation – for more detail, see links below.

Qualitative social research interviews already place power in the hands of the interviewer to shape the research outcomes, but the ongoing iterative analysis that characterises realist interviews appears to give even more power to the interviewer.  This perhaps makes it especially important to view the research / evaluation findings as a product which is distinct to the researcher(s) leading the interviews. It also implies it is important to build some form of tracking into the research design so that the iterative process of refining the lines of enquiry / questioning is acknowledged in the reporting.

Manzano, A. (2016) The craft of interviewing in realist evaluation, Evaluation 22: 342-360. Sage.

Event summary: