Using the realist interview approach to maintain theoretical awareness in realist studies

Ferdinand Chemungha Mukumbang, Bruno E. Marchal, Sara Van Belle, Brian van Wyk

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Realist evaluation submits that theories and models of how, why, for whom and under what circumstances programs work could be formulated by conceptualizing the relational links between the context within which programs are implemented, the generative mechanisms the programs trigger, and the outcomes of interest. Qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis allow for the description of the relevant context, the generative mechanisms, and the emergent outcomes of programs and provide explanatory power to link these elements. The 'realist interviewing technique', whereby interviewees comment on a suggested 'program theory' to provide refinement, is proposed as a distinctive approach for conducting interviews in a realist-informed inquiry. However, the application of this interviewing strategy within the realist evaluation studies is underutilized. In this study, we demonstrate how the realist interview technique reinforces and maintains theoretical awareness and contributes to trustworthiness through three theory-building phases: theory gleaning, theory refining, and theory consolidation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalQualitative Health Research
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)485-515
Number of pages31
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Realist evaluation
  • realist interview
  • theoretical awareness
  • retroduction
  • generative mechanisms


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