Itad spends week with Realist Evaluation expert Gill Westhorp

This April, Itad spent an informative and enlightening week with Realist Evaluation (RE) expert, Dr Gill Westhorp. Gill is the Director of Community Matters, a consultancy based in south Australia, and having her here, with her extensive RE experience, provided us with an opportunity to learn and improve our practices and programmes.

Included in the week were:

  • We held project-specific workshops ( for BRACED, HMG Climate Change Compass and BCURE), where project teams really got down to the nitty-gritty of their realist evaluations; identifying lessons, challenges and successes, and enabling team members not so experienced in the practice to shore up their understanding. Our project teams will be blogging on what they learnt, so watch this space!
  • An in-depth theme day, where our Private Sector Development theme delved into a couple of their projects (FoodTrade East & Southern Africa, and West African Food Markets) with the in-house team, and some external qualitative experts from the University of East Anglia. They discussed the practical challenges of RE, including the collecting relevant data in the field, and the intricacies of RE design.
  • An Itad-wide session, where consultants and administration staff alike were given an introduction to the fundamentals of RE, and the philosophy of RE, and where it sits within the epistemology of qualitative and quantitative evaluation. They compared different theory-based approaches, and discussed the importance of mechanisms and contexts outcomes to conducting realist evaluations.
  • Finally, a Centre for Development Impact seminar at the Institute of Development Studies on the latest CDI Practice Paper, Reflections from a Realist Evaluation in Progress: Scaling Ladders and Stitching Theory, written by the BCURE team. The team (who had already spent a session with Gill working on their evaluation) discussed why a realist approach was chosen to evaluate BCURE, reflected on the challenges faced and the lessons learned during the first year of the evaluation, and commented on the potential value realist evaluation can add within international development more broadly.

A number of Itad-projects, beyond those worked on with Gill, will benefit from the time spent with her, so we’d like to extend a huge thank-you to her. So many Itad staff learnt lessons from all of the sessions, and we are keen to improve our current practices, as well as design and implement realist evaluations on new projects in the near future.

For more blogs on Itad’s work using Realist Evaluation see: