Realist Reviews and Realist Evaluation


Understanding the underlying principles, processes and application of realist review and realist evaluation.

This module will provide participants with a firm grounding in realist review (or synthesis) and realist evaluation. Participants who have completed the course should then be able to apply their new knowledge and skills to their own realist research project, regardless of which field of research they come from. In health care and many other fields of research, interventions are often described as being complex and have outcomes that are dependent on context. When these complex interventions fail to achieve their desired outcomes, the explanation frequently provided is because they are both complex and context dependent. Realist research approaches (realist evaluation or realist review) can help make sense of these types of interventions or programmes. The approaches are theory driven – developing structurally coherent explanations of interventions and test these against empirical data. In realist evaluation the researcher or evaluator’s task is to gather the data – i.e. it is a form of primary research. Whereas in realist review the primary data comes from documents (e.g. studies, policy documents and so on) and so it is a form of secondary research.

The last date for receipt of complete applications is 5pm Friday 7th February 2025. Regrettably, late applications cannot be accepted.


The overall aims of the course are to enable students to:

  • Appreciate the key underpinning principle of realism
  • Understand the implications of taking a realist approach on knowledge claims and realist research project design and processes
  • Be able to explain when a realist review or realist evaluation would be the correct approach to use
  • Be able to describe the stages of a realist review and realist evaluation
  • Be able to focus a realist review or evaluation
  • Understand the role of programme theory in realist review and evaluation and be able to develop and refine one
  • Know how to collect relevant data for realist reviews and realist evaluations
  • Develop data extraction processes for realist reviews and realist evaluations
  • Be confident in their ability to apply a realist logic of analysis to data
  • Have an awareness of the challenges of developing and getting funding for a realist research project
  • Be able to explain who and why to recruit to a realist research project team
  • Describe and explain the pros and cons of using quality and publication standards in realist research


Student Feedback

"I found the 5 days to be an excellent introduction and overview of realist evaluation and realist synthesis. The tutors are first class: confident, lucid, approachable, and patient. A strength of the course is that there was sufficient time reserved for discussion, feedback and joint-learning."

Programme details

This module is run over an eight week cycle where the first week is spent working on introductory activities using a Virtual Learning Environment, the second week is spent in Oxford for the face to face teaching week (this takes place on the dates advertised), there are then four Post-Oxford activities (delivered through the VLE) which are designed to help you write your assignment. You then have a week of personal study and you will be required to submit your assignment electronically the following week (usually on a Tuesday at 14:00 UK Local Time).


Description Costs
Short Course in Health Sciences £3175.00
Students enrolled on MSc in EBHC £2570.00


Details of funding opportunities, including grants, bursaries, loans, scholarships and benefit information are available on our financial assistance page.


If you are an employee of the University of Oxford and have a valid University staff card you may be eligible to receive a 10% discount on the full stand-alone fee. To take advantage of this offer please submit a scan/photocopy of your staff card along with your application. Your card should be valid for a further six months after attending the course.


Dr Geoffrey Wong

Module Co-ordinator

Dr Geoffrey Wong is an Associate Professor at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences.

Assessment methods

Assessment will be based on submission of two written assignments which should each not exceed 2,000 words.

Academic Credit

Applicants may take this course for academic credit. The University of Oxford Department for Continuing Education offers Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS) points for this course. Participants attending at least 80% of the taught course and successfully completing assessed assignments are eligible to earn credit equivalent to 20 CATS points which may be counted towards a postgraduate qualification.

Applicants can choose not to take the course for academic credit and will therefore not be eligible to undertake the academic assignment offered to students taking the course for credit. Applicants cannot receive CATS (Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme) points or equivalence. Credit cannot be attributed retrospectively. CATS accreditation is required if you wish for the course to count towards a further qualification in the future.

A Certificate of Completion is issued at the end of the course.

Applicants registered to attend ‘not for credit’ who subsequently wish to register for academic credit and complete the assignment are required to submit additional information, which must be received one calendar month in advance of the course start date. Please contact us for more details.

Please contact if you have any questions.


This course requires you to complete the application form and to attach a copy of your CV. If you are applying to take this course for academic credit you will also be required to provide a reference. Please note that if you are not applying to take the course for academic credit then you do not need to submit a reference.

Please ensure you read the guidance notes which appear when you click on the symbols as you progress through the application form, as any errors resulting from failure to do so may delay your application.

Selection criteria

To apply for the course you should:

  • Be a graduate or have successfully completed a professional training course
  • Have professional work experience in the health service or a health-related field
  • Identify a work based problem for which you will be seeking evidence
  • Be able to combine intensive classroom learning with the application of the principles and practices of evidence-based health care within the work place
  • Have a good working knowledge of email, internet, word processing and Windows applications (for communications with course members, course team and administration)
  • Show evidence of the ability to commit time to study and an employer's commitment to make time available to study, complete course work and attend course and university events and modules.
  • Be able to demonstrate English Language proficiency at the University’s higher level


Accommodation is available at the Rewley House Residential Centre, within the Department for Continuing Education, in central Oxford. The comfortable, en-suite, study-bedrooms have been rated as 4-Star Campus accommodation under the Quality In Tourism scheme, and come with tea- and coffee-making facilities, free Wi-Fi access and Freeview TV. Guests can take advantage of the excellent dining facilities and common room bar, where they may relax and network with others on the programme.

IT requirements

Please ensure that you have access to a computer that meets the specifications detailed on our technical support page.