ICCE TIG Week: Culturally Competent Realist Evaluation in Global Contexts by Abi Sriharan

Greetings! You have found your way to my blog where we will discuss tips for conducting culturally competent realist evaluation in global contexts. I am Abi Sriharan. I am an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation at the University of Toronto. I have over fifteen years of experience teaching, researching, and evaluating health care and public health programs, mainly in a global context.

Realist evaluation focuses on understanding what it is about programs and their contexts that results in particular outcomes.

Several assumptions underpin realist evaluation. First, realist evaluation assumes interconnectedness among the context (C), the mechanism (M), and the outcomes (O). Second, realist evaluation assumes the notion that programs are ideas or theories developed by humans who then implement the ideas in complex contexts. The development, implementation, and eventual outcomes of global initiatives relies on these contextual factors.

As realist methodologists, we need to peel back the many contextual layers in which programs are embedded to understand the outcomes they produce and to investigate the underlying mechanisms that are shaped by the context.

To best approach the cultural context of a program, a realist evaluator should do the following:

  1. Listen and observe: First, and most crucial, listen intentionally to local stakeholders to hear their experiences and observe their perspectives, stories, relationships, and practices without any preconceived assumptions about their practices and norms.
  2. Clarify: Second, ask clarifying questions about what you hear and see to ensure that emerging themes are based on local perspectives and experiences rather than your own assumptions and biases.
  3. Understand: Third, once you have clarified neutralized assumptions and neutralized biases, take a deep look at the findings to synthesize why they are doing what they are doing in that specific situation.
  4. Verify: Finally, present your evaluation to local partners and ensure the emerging themes and your understandings about the local context and culture are accurate.

These four steps are iterative process. Successful implementation of these four steps relies on strong collaboration between the local stakeholders and realist evaluators that is built on mutual trust and respect.

Clarify, Understand, Verify, Listen & Observe cycle diagram

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating International and Cross-Cultural (ICCE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the International and Cross-Cultural Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our ICCE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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