Realist approaches are suited to exploring causality and understanding why interventions do or do not work for specific groups in different contexts rather than simply whether they work (Pawson et al 2004). Realist approaches identify, test and refine the theories that underlie interventions (Pawson et al., 2004; Wong et al., 2013). Theories are the ideas and assumptions held by stakeholders -communities, practitioners, commissioners, participants and academics - about interventions. Theories explain how and why programmes are expected to/have result(ed) in intended (or unintended) outcomes in different contexts (Pawson et al, 2006).
Realist evaluators use the terminology of contexts, mechanism and outcomes.
Contexts include factors such as the: setting; group targeted; resources, and, the types of activities or strategies used in interventions. From a service user point of view, contexts were mostly interpreted as 'activities engaged with' or 'services received', including if these were group or one-to-one activities.
Mechanisms are reasoning/psychological responses of the participants' (or organisations') to the resources/changes in context brought about by the intervention (Wong et al., 2013). These responses result in intended or unintended programme outcomes. Contexts 'fire' mechanisms, through which outcomes are enabled/achieved.
The programme theories uncovered in realist evaluation are described as Context, Mechanism and Outcome Configurations ( CMO-Cs). Crucially, CMO-Cs postulate how and why an intervention should/or does work . It explains how by intervening and altering a context a mechanism is triggered causing/contributing to the intended or unintended outcome (Pawson et al., 2004; Wong et al., 2013).
Theory of Change
Theory of Change is a comprehensive description (usually in the form of a table) of how and why desired changes and outcomes are expected to emerge from a number of actions planned and investments undertaken It describes the starting position (why is there a need for investment) and maps the route towards the intended outcomes by describing the various activities or interventions planned by a fund or programme.
Community Anchors are the community-based organisations who were responsible for the delivery of the PCF funded initiative The study engaged with staff of the Community Anchors directly involved in delivering PCF funded services.
Those organisations that supported the Community Anchors through joint working, signposting or referrals of service users/people in need; offering additional services to project beneficiaries, or being directly involved in the delivery of the PCF project.
Community members who volunteered because of a desire to help the Community Anchor and a motivation to do good in the community, or local people with the same motivations, but previously (or concurrently) themselves service users. Here, volunteering is often part of gaining employability and other transferable skills.
This group includes those community members in need of support, receiving and/or participating in the services funded by PCF.