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Solent University Realist Research Group (SURRG) is a collective of academics, non academics and practitioners who meet to further the understanding and outputs of realist research.

SURRG comprises:

  • a reading group
  • a group seeking research and funding opportunities, and
  • interest in the development of realist learning and analytical skills.

Over the last five years, Solent has established itself as a key contributor to realist informed research and evaluation. The key aim of realist enquiry is to address complexity by understanding how and why things work, which spans social change interventions and human interaction within contexts.

The aim of our group is to bring together everyone who is interested in realist evaluation, synthesis and research. Those who are interested may be carrying out PhDs, conducting evaluations, or established researchers.

The group meets regularly, holding a two-part seminar which includes a 'reading room' where we come together to explore and make sense of an academic texts and a presentation of current research.

Chart showing how the Solent University Realist Research Group works

Realist research has two parts: realist evaluation and realist synthesis

Realist evaluations assume that projects, interventions, changes and programmes work under certain conditions and are influenced by the way individuals respond to them.

The aim of an evaluation is to determine what works (mechanisms), for whom, in which circumstances (contexts), and why. They are designed to improve understanding about how development interventions (the mechanisms) work in different contexts. The responses to the mechanisms are outcomes.

Context (circumstances) + mechanism (interventions) = outcome (and effect).

Realist synthesis is the accumulation of a range of evidence in order to identify underlying mechanisms and discern how they worked, and under what conditions (contexts), answering the question: "What works for whom under what circumstances?" This contrasts with other literature reviews that focus on answering the question: "What works?"

Want to know more? This webinar with Justin Jagosh, Kev Harris and Henry Dorling explores five burning questions about realist evaluation.


karen-burnellKaren Burnell
Karen has experience of conducting realist evaluations in the area of veteran mental health. Having received funding from Forces in Mind Trust, Karen evaluated a drop in service for veterans in Portsmouth.

Karen has recently won funding to evaluate initiatives that offer archaeology to support veteran mental health and wellbeing using realist methods.

See Karen's full profile

Steven Henderson
Professor Henderson trained as an economist at the University of Kent at Canterbury and has a PhD in strategic management. He first worked on realist evaluations of regeneration projects in the Southampton area and has since evaluated projects in health, bullying, families at risk, culture change, police training, and organisational development.

Dr Kate PikeKate Pike
Dr Kate Pike is an Associate Professor Emeritus at Solent University, and Director of Field-Research, a company specialising in maritime research. Kate has an extensive range of interdisciplinary research experience, including realist evaluation skills. She has project expertise in leadership in the marine and maritime fields, including shipping, sustainability, coastal and marine protected areas. Kates' maritime research focuses on the human side of shipping, particularly seafarers' welfare, gender issues, management and leadership, crewing strategies, sustainability, and safety culture. Kate is currently involved with the evaluation of the fishSAFE2025 project in Bangladesh, which is part of the Fish Safety Foundation Programme.

Other projects using realist evaluation includes:

  • Realist evaluation of the Royal Hospital Chelsea's internal communications (2018).
  • Realist evaluation approach applied to UK seafarers' centres via assisted conference facilitation (2018).

Julian Winn, member of the SURRG research groupJulian Winn
Julian worked in banking before training as a nurse, and later studying marketing. He trained in Lean and Six Sigma methodologies and pursued a career in health service consulting, focusing on process improvement and services transformation. He understands how difficult sustaining transformational change can be. This, and a well-publicised case of poor medical research having long-term deleterious effect on populations, led Julian to realist research as a methodology for understanding context-driven change and outcomes. Julian's focus is on the application of realist research in health and social care. He is delighted to be involved with SURRG and to promote its aims and activities.

Andrew Bailey, member of SURRG research groupAndrew Bailey
Previously a student at Solent University (2016), Andrew is now studying an embedded realist-themed PhD at Northumbria University, in which he is evaluating the Foundation of Light's community and education programmes.

Andrew has previous experience as a sports development officer at a national governing body. His research has included the history and evolution of sport development, and the process of mobilising and translating realist methodologies into the sports development industry.

Contact Andrew by email

Follow Andrew on Twitter

Jenny Godfrey
Jenny's experience includes retail and management and a degree in fashion and design. She then moved into human resources with CIPD accreditation. While studying for a master's to increase her HR skills, Jenny could see that disability issues were poorly understood in the workplace. This prompted further research using phenomenology in the belief that understanding comes with an immersion in the experience of others. Realist evaluation methodology has provided the tools to explain the underlying issues in analysis about what works, who for, how, and why or why not. Jenny recommends SURRG because she finds it to be a valuable resource to access realist evaluation principles through its activities and aims.


Better Evaluation
An international collaboration to improve evaluation practice and theory by sharing and generating information about options (methods or processes) and approaches.

Realist synthesis - an introduction: Pawson, Greenhalgh, Harvey and Walsh
A paper giving and introduction to a new method of conducting systematic reviews of the evidence base - namely 'realist synthesis'.

Research Methodology
Realism research philosophy.

A brief introduction to realist research approaches
A presentation made by Dr Geoff Wong, a clinical research fellow and co-investigator on the RAMESES I project and principal investigator for RAMESES II.

The RAMESES projects
Reporting and quality standards for realist evaluations and syntheses

Events and Continuing Professional Development

It is always a pleasure to listen to a recognised expert in their field. In July, as part of the SURRG Continuing Professional Development commitment, we were delighted to have Dr Justin Jagosh (director of the Centre for Advancement in Realist Evaluation and Synthesis) talk to us about his paper Retroductive theorizing in Pawson and Tilley's applied scientific realism.

We are delighted to provide this video of the meeting.

In the first part of the presentation, Justin defines retroduction and gives examples of how retroductive theory can be applied. In the second part, Justin addresses a number of the questions and points raised by his audience.

We hope you enjoy watching this recording as much as the audience enjoyed being part of the live event.

You can read more about Justin and his professional work here.

Upcoming events

TermDate Event 

26 February 2021

Kirsh, S.R., Aron, D.C., Johnson, K.D. et al A realist review of shared medical appointments. How, for whom, and under what circumstances do they work? BMC Health Serv Res 17, 113 (2017).

Jenny Godley

"Theories - finding to wood amongst the theoretical trees. Synthesising theories to find clarity."

Jenny Godley


26 March 2021

Lemire, S., Peck, L.R., and Porowski, A (2020), The Growth of the Evaluation Tree in the Policy Analysis Forest: Recent Developments in Evaluation. Policy Stud J, 48: S47-S70. doi: 10.1111/psj.12387

Dr Kev Harris

Seeking Evaluation Project Opportunities: Making the most of current opportunity processes, seeking new opportunities and methods of finding them

Dr Kev Harris


30 April 2021

Justin Jagosh (2020): Retroductive theorizing in Pawson and Tilly's applied scientific realism, Journal of Critical Realism. DOI 10.1080/14767430.2020.1723301

Dr Kev Harris and Julian Winn

Open discussion

Julian Winn


28 May 2021

Jim Lusted (2019): A critical realist morphogenetic approach to researching sport policy: reflections on a large-scale study of policy implementation in grassroots English football, International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, 10:4, 705-719

Louis Ryan

Applying realist approaches within coaching and teaching

Louis Ryan

Assessment board


No meeting

Graduation ceremonies


No meeting

Get in touch

If you are interested in joining the group please contact for more information.

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