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REALIST SYNTHESIS An Overview

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Presentation on theme: "REALIST SYNTHESIS An Overview"— Presentation transcript:

1 REALIST SYNTHESIS An Overview
RAY PAWSON University of Leeds ERSC Methods Festival July 06

2 Questions for today Lessons learned - how does knowledge about policy interventions accumulate? Lessons transferred – how can past be related to present and future? Lessons applied – how should accumulated wisdom be dispensed? Lessons lived – what does it feel like to do systematic review?

3 Changing the basic metaphor
- ve +ve Meta-analysis – synthesis as summation The purpose of synthesis is to ‘pool’ ‘amalgamate’, ‘combine’, ‘fuse’ the findings from all prior research on a given family programme This assumes a body of research consisting of a large number of controlled trials of the SAME programme (treatment) carried out across a fixed population. Not Today – why this basic assumption is futile Mean effect

4 ‘Realist synthesis’ in a slide
KEY METAPHOR Unit of analysis is the programme theory Primary data is inspected for what it reveals about the programme theory Purpose of the review is to test and refine programme theory TECHNICAL SEQUENCE Question selection as ‘theory elicitation’ Searching as ‘theoretical sampling’ Quality appraisal by ‘theory testing potential’ Data extraction as ‘confrontation of theory with evidence’ Synthesis as ‘theory refinement’ Dissemination as production of ‘middle-range theory’.

5 Realist Synthesis: Naming & Shaming Examples of Public Disclosure Initiatives
Megan’s Law & sex offender registration Outing prostitute’s johns School league tables` Inspection and special measures for ‘failing schools’ Hospital and surgeon report cards Pub-watch bans and exclusions Local press adverts for poll tax non-payment and council rent arrears Beach cleanliness standards and kite marking PUBLIC DISCLOSURE initiatives. There are dozens of such programmes in US and UK at the moment The basic ‘theory’ is that one can attack under-performance by publicity, one can reduce deviance by publicity, etc. It is used in all the above fields.

6 Shaming Sanctions are Contagious Further Examples of Public Disclosure Initiatives
Community Right-to-Know Act on Environmental Hazards Car crime indices and car safety reports Mandatory (public) arrest for domestic violence Roadside hoardings naming speeding drivers Posters naming streets with unlicensed TV watching Rail company SPAD ratings (signals passed at danger) EC name and shame and fame initiative on compliance with directives. AND MORE

7 Public notification – basic theory
i) Identification: in which the performance or behaviour in question is observed and then classified, measured, rated, ranked, verified, etc. ii) Naming: in which information on, and the identity of, the failing or deviant party is disclosed, publicized, disseminated, notified, published, broadcast, registered etc. iii) Public sanction: in which the broader community acts on the disclosure in order to shame, reprimand, reproach, censure, control, influence, supervise the named party. iv) Recipient response: in which behavioural change follows the sanction, with the subjects being shamed, regretful, penitent, contrite, restrained, re-integrated etc.

8 NAMED BUT WHO IS SHAMED? Poll-tax protesters named in the local newspapers Sex offenders under community notification Under-performing schools identified in league tables Motor manufacturers named in the Car Theft Index Example The basic idea is that public disclosure will work in different ways for different subjects in different circumstances. So the research starts in exactly the same way as realist evaluation. The only difference is that one looks to a secondary analysis of existing research for the evidence. Let us look at ONE hypothesis - expect that shaming works differently according to the status of the named party. Consider 4 cases - what does the evidence say about how these four rather different parties react? In this case I want to concentrate on how one can use existing social science theories as part of the process of synthesis

9 Poll-tax protesters named in the local newspapers
Poll tax non-payment – there were a great many sanctions imposed: fines, wage arrest, court appearances etc. Protesters thus ignored or even celebrated disclosure of their names in the local press. Policy abandoned. Result - ‘Naming and Proclaiming’. Public notification merely one of a long list of failed attempts. Including ‘ponding’ Note on the quality of evidence here - partisan literature produced within the movement but OK!

10 Sex offenders under community notification
Notified Sex Offenders are resentful or scared by public attention. One key result is non-compliance with registration and displacement to other localities. Re-offence rates remain static. Naming and skulking Not much ‘reintegrative’ shaming going on here.

11 Under-performing schools identified in league tables
Schools respond to league table positions tactically - increasing resources to marginal candidates (middle grades) and excluding/ not entering hopeless ones (lowest grades). Grades improve. Naming and Scheming Also common reaction in hospitals

12 Motor manufacturers named in the Car Theft Index
Car manufacturers – are embarrassed by adverse publicity and loss of reputation (and downturn in sales) - respond with genuine improvements in vehicle security. Car crime goes down. Finally, a group that does respond to threats to reputation. Quite good evidence that the car theft index was a significant feature in inducing Ford to change its key system. Why the differences - it sort of ‘figures’ that there might be such a pattern but what’s the explanation?

13 Is there a theory to accommodate these differences in outcome?
Reference group theory. Antagonostic - hostile to threats or overtures Detached - disinterest in treats or overtures Marginal - take on the trappings Candidates - fall into line Place these four example directly on the typology. Merton’s Typology of aspirations to group membership of eligibles and non-eligibles

14 The theory under further refinement
For N&S to ‘work’ the following configuration should be in place: the named party should be an ‘aspirational insider’ the shaming mechanism should be dovetailed with other mechanism (market sanctions) the disclosure should carry intense (but controllable) media interest the disclosed data should unambiguous both in allocating blame and in suggested remedial action the disclosing authority should have had exemplary watchdog credentials, which are operated benignly

15 Evidence-based Policy: A Realist Perspective
… And Finally The book: Ray Pawson Evidence-based Policy: A Realist Perspective London: Sage The website:


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