Evaluation researchers are tasked with providing the evidence to guide programme building and to assess its outcomes. As such, they labour under the highest expectations - bringing independence and objectivity to policy making. They face huge challenges, given the complexity of modern interventions and the politicised backdrop to all of their investigations. They have responded with a huge portfolio of research techniques and, through their professional associations, have set up schemes to establish standards for evaluative inquiry and to accredit evaluation practitioners. A big question remains. Has this monumental effort produced a progressive, cumulative and authoritative body of knowledge that we might think of as evaluation science? This is the question addressed by Ray Pawson in this sequel to Realistic Evaluation and Evidence-based Policy. In answer, he provides a detailed blueprint for an evaluation science based on realist principles.
Given my job title, it will come as no surprise that my main interest lies in research methodology. This does not quite bracket me with the technical nerds, however, for I have written widely on the philosophy and practice of research, covering methods qualitative and quantitative, pure and applied, contemporaneous and historical. There is a common 'realist' thread underlying every word, albeit a modest, middle-range, empirically-rich kind of realism.
Preface: The Armchair Methodologist and the Jobbing Researcher PART ONE: PRECURSORS AND PRINCIPLES Precursors: From the Library of Ray Pawson First Principles: A Realist Diagnostic Workshop PART TWO: THE CHALLENGE OF COMPLEXITY - DROWNING OR WAVING? A Complexity Checklist Contested Complexity Informed Guesswork: The Realist Response to Complexity PART THREE: TOWARDS EVALUATION SCIENCE Invisible Mechanisms I: The Long Road to Behavioural Change Invisible Mechanisms II: Clinical Interventions as Social Interventions Synthesis as Science: The Bumpy Road to Legislative Change Conclusion: A Mutually Monitoring, Disputatious Community of Truth Seekers