Check out Director Andrew Hawkins’ latest article ‘Realist evaluation and randomised controlled trials for testing program theory in complex social systems’ in Evaluation.
Realist approaches to scientific evaluation tend to be strong on theory and explanation, but lack adequate tests or means of validating theory. Randomised controlled trials (RCT) are often seen as the gold standard for research, but Andrew argues, while they are useful in some fields of science, they are less useful in complex social systems.
Andrew’s article focuses on the potential for randomisation and experimentation to provide evidence for transfactual (i.e. reusable or portable) context–mechanism–outcome configurations (CMOs) in complex adaptive systems. Realist RCTs are considered but rejected; instead a form of propensity score matching is proposed for testing realist program theory, estimating the effect size of a purported CMO, and generating scientific knowledge for developing more effective interventions into complex social systems.