Realist methodologies – it’s a case of C+M=O don’t you know

1401Having led some seminars at BU, and dipped my toe in to teaching, as a useful mechanism and resource, I have often wondered what contexts make for a good workshop. It would be my suggestion that some or all of; insightful means of relating content; inspiring delivery; a variety of taught and practical exercises; and an opportunity to network and socialise are needed for an enjoyable workshop experience. These are the contexts which I hypothesize to be conducive toward a good workshop outcome. My experiences of workshops in my early career researcher and PhD journey to date have been mostly positive, but I have never experienced all of the above in equal high measure – UNTIL NOW!

This week I have attended a 3 day workshop on Realist Methodologies. The workshop was hosted by the University of Liverpool, but delivered on their London campus in the heart of the city’s financial district.

The content and resources was communicated and contextualised by facilitators Justin Jagosh (University of Liverpool), Geoff Wong (University of Oxford) and Sonia Dalkin (Northumbria University) in a manner that was informative, insightful and engaging. There was a good mix of taught material and hands on exercises. However, there were also chances to present and constructively discuss your work to the wider and interdisciplinary group, and opportunities for one on ones with the facilitators to discuss and (de)construct your own realist projects. In addition, there was also an opportunity to chat in an informal setting over some pizza, pasta, beer and gin & tonics! All of this led to enhanced reasoning, a mechanism, with an outcome of increased understanding.

So in a way that is succinct and accessible, what is realist methodology and what how can it be applied in research? I’ve actually dropped in some hints in the two larger paragraphs above… Before the methodology is outlined, firstly it is useful to discuss the philosophical position on which realist methodologies are based.

Critical Realism

Realist methodology and evaluation is underpinned by the critical realist philosophical works of the likes of Roy Bhaskar and Andrew Sayer (to name a few). This furthers a philosophical position that “…there exists both an external world independent of human consciousness, and at the same time a dimension which includes our socially determined knowledge about reality.” (Danermark et al., 2002: 5-6). On this basis, it is possible to be a positivist and objective ontologist (what is) whilst, at the same time, being an epistemological interpretivist (what it is to know).

Going deeper (stay with me!), Roy Bhaskar proposed three realms of reality. The actual, (objective entities that manifest in the real world), real (Subjective structures, phenomena and agency that act as causal mechanisms in the real world) and the empirical (Observable human consciousness and perspectives on the actual and real). As Easton states, “The most fundamental aim of critical realism is explanation; answers to the question “what caused those events to happen?”” (2010: 121).

Realist Evaluation

Based on this, and in the context of evaluating social programmes, realist evaluation is a research approach that seeks to ‘scratch beneath the surface’ and offer a ‘real’ and plausible account of “…what works for whom, in what circumstances, in what respects and how.” (Pawson et al., 2005: 21). It does so by proposing that the outcome (O) of social programmes or interventions rest the conceptual relationship between mechanisms (M) and context (C) – expressed as the ‘O=M+C’ formula.

However, integral to mechanisms are both resources (typically the programme or intervention) and reasoning. With it sometimes hard to adequately illustrate and distinguish these two characteristics in the CMO configuration, Dalkin et al (2015) propose a new iteration of Pawson and Tilley’s (1997) original CMO formula – expressed as ‘M(Resources) + C→M(Reasoning) = O’. I’m afraid you’ll have to come and ask me in person for my CMO configuration!

In conjunction with findings and evidence from existing literature to inform research protocols, this conceptual formula is used to gather data, and interrogate to ‘scratch beneath the surface’ as to what happens in social programmes and interventions, why, for whom and in what context. Finally, and importantly to note, realist evaluation has no methodological prescriptions – although it is particularly suited to mixed methods and qualitative research methods.

The realist methodology community is a very friendly and collegiate one. Do get in touch to discuss this approach. If I can’t help you (for example, I haven’t discussed realist synthesis – a kind of systematic review approach using the realist philosophy and CMO configuration), I can pass you on to someone who might be able to (The RAMASES JISCMail list is a good start).

My next workshop has a lot to live up to!




Dalkin, S. M., Greenhalgh, J., Jones, D., Cunningham, B. & Lhussier, M. 2015. What’s in a mechanism? Development of a key concept in realist evaluation. Implementation Science, 10.

Danermark, B., Ekstrom, M., Jakobsen, L. & Karlsson, J. C. 2002. Explaining Society: Critical realism in the social sciences, London, Routledge.

Easton, G. 2010. Critical realism in case study research. Industrial Marketing Management, 39, 118–128.

Pawson, R., Greenhalgh, T., Harvey, G. & Walshe, K. 2005. Realist review – a new method of systematic review designed for complex policy interventions. Journal of Health Services Research & Policy, 10, 21-34.

Pawson, R. & Tilley, N. 1997. Realistic Evaluation, London, Sage.

Celebrating BU success at the FoL – come along!

General-banner-for-digital-use-NEWWe would love to see you at our Drop-in event – feel free to attend for a session or two, or the whole day. Come along and hear about the huge range of Research taking place across the University, and support your fellow academics talking about their Research. Taking place in The Coyne Lecture Theatre in the Thomas Hardy Suite from 10am – 4pm.

Book now

Our confirmed speakers include:

10am  Heather Hartwell, discussing the VeggiEAT project

10.40am  Jamie Matthews discussing the international news coverage of the Japanese earthquake and consequent tsunami

10.55am  Helen Farasat discussing her research with parents of children with eczema

11.10 Sine McDougall – Participating in Research

11.45am  TBC

12.00pm  TBC

12.15pm  Yeganeh Morakabati will speak about her experiences of teaching in Afghanistan

12:30 Dan Weissmann

1.45pm  Neil Vaughan, discussing his research into developing an epidural simulator

2.00pm Ashley Woodfall

2.15pm Fabian Homberg

2.30 Participating in Research

3.00pm  Carrie Hodges, Lee-Ann Fenge and Wendy Cutts speaking about their project which focuses on young people with disabilities.

3.15pm James Gavinwill talk about his project looking at whether technology can be used to increase strength and balance in older adults

More speakers to be confirmed – please check our Blog posts for updates!

Book now

Opportunity to deliver a short session at the FoL


Missed out on holding an event at the Festival of Learning? Have an idea but not sure it’s enough for an entire event? Here’s your chance. RKEO are hosting a celebration of BU research successes at the Festival of Learning and we have a number of short sessions still available. These are for 15 mins, including questions, and are an opportunity to present completed or partial research, or simply to share some ideas and receive feedback from the audience. It might be useful if your funder requires lay input to your proposal? You may even find some participants or advisory group members.

If you are interested in taking up this opportunity, on a first-come, first-served basis, please send a title and short abstract to Jennifer Roddis – – by 5pm on 6 July.

BU publications in Taylor & Francis top 20 most read articles

SDRC has developed a significant research portfolio in collaboration with industrial partners within corrosion, corrosion modelling, corrosion simulation, in-situ and remote corrosion condition monitoring.

SDRC industrial partners in corrosion research include The Tank Museum at Bovington, Defence Science & Technology Laboratory Ministry of Defence and Wessex Institute of Technology.

SDRC researchers have delivered invited guest speaking on the above topics in corrosion at the University of Oxford, Cranfield University, Institute of Physics and University of Southampton.

This activity also led to organising the 1st BU-International Tank Museums Conference at BU and organising a special session at the recent Contact & Surface conference that included solving corrosion issues through Surface Engineering.

Recent publication “Optimisation of interface roughness and coating thickness to maximise coating–substrate adhesion – a failure prediction and reliability assessment modelling” has made to the top 16th in the top 20 most read Taylor & Francis publications list with 409 article views/downloads.

Another recent publication “Modelling of metal-coating delamination incorporating variable environmental parameters” now stands 2nd in the above list with 1161 article views/downloads.

It is worth noting that the first publication was available since April 13, 2015 and the later publication was available since December 15, 2014. The rest of the papers (except one Feb 7, 2014) in the Taylor & Francis most read articles list were available since April-Aug 2012.

If you have interest in the above research area or would like to know more please visit SDRC webpage or contact

Dr Zulfiqar Khan (Associate Professor)


Academic Appraisals – Guidance for Preparing RKE Supporting Documents

Posted in BU research by clujanbarroso

For 2015/16 Academic Appraisals the appraisee will need to complete the Academic Staff Performance Appraisal Form (ASPAF), Section B (Academic Staff Profile) includes a review of outputs and BURO.

The following guide will help you extract that information from BRIAN / BURO to be able to take it to the meeting.



BU Researchers Deliver Journalism Training for the Big Issue


The Big Issue Online Journalism training programme finished off last week with a gallery exhibition of the participants’ work, open to the public. The event which took place in Poole Library featured articles and photos produced by the trainees during the 6-week course. The course, organised by the Big Issue, in collaboration with communications agency Poached Creative and Bournemouth University, targeted as participants Big Issue sellers or unemployed people with an interest in writing or photography. Its main aim was to equip the trainees with basic journalistic skills that would help them find their own public voice and offer a pathway to future employment.

BU researchers Dr Ann Luce, Dr Dan Jackson and Dr Einar Thorsen were approached by the Big Issue to deliver part of the training, after their successful collaboration with Access Dorset – a charity for disabled people – on a similar project that aimed at empowering people with disabilities through citizen journalism.

The Big Issue Online Journalism included lessons on news and features writing and photography, with a focus on interviewing and how to connect to the audience, as well as promoting work through social media. Participants also had the opportunity to put their newly adopted skills to practice by creating photo-essays and covering the Wheels Festival in Bournemouth, and individual choices for stories included such on the Dino Exhibition in Christchurch and a feature article about Chaplin’s bar in Boscombe. Works by all of the participants were published on the project’s blog. Guest talks were also given, including one by the editor of Dorset Life magazine.

One trainee said: “Training like this is not available anywhere. This is really good because it’s hands on as well as the written part of it. I’ve learnt a hell of a lot in a short period of time.”

Another participant also praised the course: “I’m stepping back into the right zone of getting back to work. Freelancing is difficult. This is good for networking, getting back with people, seeing how different people work and getting good feelings about yourself.”

Many said the training had given them a clearer idea of what topics they want to implement in their work, and a better understanding of what editors are looking for in order to get their work published in the future.

All of the participants had an artistic background and were engaged with writing, photography, music or painting – a hobby for some, a means for a living for others.

Dr Dan Jackson and Dr Einar Thorsen – assisted by students Daniel Weissman, Naomi Mihara and Stefani Tasheva – also worked on evaluating the project through interviewing the participants prior to their training as well as after to learn about their background, their expectations of the course and their experiences throughout the six weeks, and in what ways it was beneficial to them. The data from these interviews will be disseminated in upcoming publications.



Funder Information events

If you are forward-thinking, attending a funder information event or conference can give you the edge when it comes to applying.

Looking at Horizon 2020 as an example, the following events are a sample taking place over the coming months:

Events are added regularly to the Horizon 2020 pages.

If you attend an external funder event of this type, please remember to let your RKEO Facilitator or Officer know. It may be that we can help share information that you obtain with others at BU with similar interests or alert you to others who might be potential partners.

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships – Important news for applications for 2015

Logo_Marie-CurieIf you are hoping to apply, then you MUST send us your Intention to Bid for this call by 13 July 2015 with one form per Fellow.

[Form now removed as deadline has passed]

It is essential that you do this so that RKEO can plan for the resources that will be required to support each application.

If you need to find out more about this call before submitting your Intention to Bid, please go to the dedicated website



Newton Fund seeks Peer Review Panel Members

newton fundThe Newton Fund is actively inviting expressions of interest from senior and early career researchers to expand their pool of panel members for the Newton Fund initiative and, potentially, other British Council programmes.

Looking at the specialisms below, BU has significant expertise in many of these areas.

They are looking for early career researchers who would like to broaden their experience of peer review as a career development opportunity, and for senior researchers who are willing to share and use their experience to support the review panels. Please note that we can only consider researchers based at UK institutions.

By getting involved in funding panels, you will gain invaluable insights into how a funder functions, how they assess applications, build your network, raise your profile in your field and, potentially, give you the opportunity to influence future funding decisions.

For this particular invitation:

Eligibility  Senior and early-career researchers. Early-career researcher is defined as being aCollaborative Decision Making PhD holder + up to 10 years. For fields where a PhD is not a usual career requirement, sufficient research experience will be accepted.

Researchers with the following specialisms are eligible to apply:

  • Biological and Medical Sciences
  • Environment and Agriculture
  • Arts and Humanities
  • Social Sciences
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences

In particular, the Newton Fund would like to hear from researchers who have the following subject specialisms:

  • Human rights
  • Forensic anthropology
  • Marine biology/Oceanography
  • Aquaculture
  • Public health/Nutrition
  • Food science
  • Microbiology
  • Earth Sciences

Find out more and apply!

CMMPH at the 10th International Normal Birth conference

Grange-over-Sands in Lancashire was once again a beautiful setting from 15th-17th June for one of the most inspirational midwifery research conferences. Attracting a significant international attendance from eminent researchers, clinicians and user representatives from as far afield as Australia, China, Canada, Brazil and across Europe (many regular attendees), the conference is now in its 10th year. Hosted by Professor Soo Downe and her team from UCLAN, it brings together researcher across all maternity professions, to present and debate work primarily relating to physiological birth. Two members of CMMPH were presenting (and tweeting!):

Professor Vanora Hundley discussed ‘Do midwives need to be more media savvy?’, a presentation created with Professor Edwin van Teijlingen and Ann Luce, based on a previous FoL public debate at BU relating to the role media plays in creating fear in childbirth . She highlighted the need for midwives to be more aware of how to work with the media in order to harness the power to present positive messages, as well as understanding impact on women and health care providers. A paper on this presentation is accessible from:

Jenny Hall with Maltese midwives and other delegates

Jenny Hall with Maltese midwives and other delegates


Dr Jenny Hall presented as part of a symposium with midwifery colleagues from Malta on an ongoing educational project relating to promotion of physiological birth in Malta. Malta has one of the highest Caesarean section rates in Europe and the team have been working together to develop midwives confidence in facilitating physiological birth as well as supporting them to educate women and families.


All delegates also received a copy of the book ‘Roar behind the silence: why kindness, compassion and respect matter in maternity care’, that includes chapters by two BU authors: Dr Jenny Hall and Consultant midwife, Katherine Gutteridge. ( see for further information)

As usual the conference provided extensive opportunity for networking and developing links for future collaboration in a considerably relaxing environment.

A tweet storify and photographs of the whole conference are available which includes contribution from BU researchers:



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