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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.


Kevin HarrisKevin Harris
Kevin is the founder of SURRG and established the research group up in 2019. Kevin has an extensive track record in realist evaluation. His PhD mobilised realist evaluation with practitioners in the sport for development field and since then he has been involved in a number of commissioned realist evaluation and research projects in the south of England. View Kevin's publications.

See Kevin's full profile

Henry Dorling, Senior LecturerHenry Dorling
Henry is an established member of SURRG. His current PhD research is a realist evaluation of physically active teaching and learning and a more movement-centred pedagogical approach in primary schools and the link with the school wide physical activity provision, how it is implemented and the potential benefits. He is employing a realist evaluation methodology in order to understand more fully the casual mechanisms that lead to specific outcome in the complex and dynamic environment of  a primary school.

Henry is interested in monitoring and evaluation in sport development, employing realist methods to understand more fully the evidence claims where sport is used to address social issues. Henry has undertaken externally funded research using realist evaluation (for example the Evaluation of the Royal Chelsea Hospital in 2017) and presented research at numerous national and international conferences advocating the use of realist methods in the sport, physical activity and education arenas.

See Henry's full profile

Chad Oatley, Associate LecturerChad Oatley
Chad is a senior practitioner in public health on the Isle of Wight; an associate lecturer at Solent University, teaching on monitoring and evaluation; and is involved in a range of research collaborations across universities and disciplines. 

In his part-time PhD training, Chad focuses on enhancing collaborative approaches to realist evaluation methodology within asset-based/strength-based approaches to community development.  

See Chad's full profile

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 (BA (Hons) Sport Coaching and Sport Development, 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

Date Event 
 4 September 2020

Leviton, L., 2014.
Some underexamined aspects of evaluation capacity building. American Journal of Evaluation, 35(1), 90-94 4

Chad Oatley (Solent University)
Building Capacity to Collaborate in Realist Evaluation.

 23 October 2020

This is a SURRG anniversary meeting - come and join us!

Chalkley AE, Routen AC, Harris JP, et al.
Marathon Kids UK: study design and protocol for a mixed methods evaluation of a school-based running programme. BMJ Open 2018;8: e022176

Henry Dorling (Solent University)
Realist evaluation in educational settings.

20 November 2020

Flynn, R., Rotter, T., Hartfield, D. et al.
A realist evaluation to identify contexts and mechanisms that enabled and hindered implementation and had an effect on sustainability of a lean intervention in pediatric healthcare. BMC Health Serv Res 19, 912 (2019)

Introduction: Kev Harris; Discussion: All
Updates in SURRG developments
Discussion: What SURRG developments would Reading Group members like to see developed?

11 December 2020

Gilmore, B., McAuliffe, E., Power, J., & Vallières, F. (2019).
Data Analysis and Synthesis Within a Realist Evaluation: Toward More Transparent Methodological Approaches. International Journal of Qualitative Methods.

Andrew Bailey
A realist evaluation of Sunderland's Foundation of Light Sport for Development Programmes

Get in touch

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

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