A spotlight on realist evaluation at Itad

Over the past five years, Itad staff and associates have been applying realist evaluation to investigate the success of several multi-year, multi-country programmes.

Credit: Chris Lysy/freshspectrum.com

Our work is pushing the frontiers of the realist approach, given our focus on complex cross-sectoral interventions with a larger scale and scope than most published examples of realist evaluation to date. To help capture and share these lessons, we’ve formed a Realist Evaluation Learning Group, to distil what we’ve learned along the way with the wider evaluation and international development communities.

Learning Group members:

  • From Itad: Mel Punton (chair), Chris Barnett, Rachel Eager, Edward Hedley, Barbora Sladkova
  • Itad associates: Isabel Vogel (Team Leader of the BCURE evaluation), Jennifer Leavy (Team Leader of the BRACED evaluation and Senior Qualitative and Quantitative and Case Study Expert on the FoodTrade evaluation), Charles Michaelis (Team Leader of the Compass evaluation), Edward Boydell (Consultant on the BRACED evaluation)


  1. Realist evaluation: is it worth it?
  2. Mixing, matching and modifying methods in realist evaluation: should we be purists or pragmatists?


Evaluation of the Building Capacity to Use Research Evidence (BCURE) programme. The effective use of research by those who make policy in the Global South can have a real impact on decision-making. DFID launched the BCURE programme with the aim of increasing the capacity of policymakers, practitioners and research intermediaries to use research effectively. Itad, in partnership with the University of Stellenbosch, conducted a 3-year realist impact evaluation of the BCURE programme, in order to strengthen the evidence base on how capacity building can promote evidence-informed policy, to inform decisions within and beyond DFID about whether to fund and how to design this type of programme in future. The final evaluation, along with a number of other BCURE knowledge products, is available here.

Knowledge Manager (KM) for DFID’s Building Resilience and Adapting to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) Programme. Responsible for monitoring, evaluation and learning, Itad is part of a consortium of partners contracted as the Knowledge Manager for BRACED. Itad is using a realist synthesis approach within the evaluation and monitoring of BRACED, to unpack how and why its fifteen projects work and do not work, to improve resilience to climate extremes in South and Southeast Asia and in the African Sahel.

Monitoring, evaluation and learning support to the International Climate Fund. The International Climate Fund (ICF) is the UK government’s commitment to help developing countries address climate change challenges, investing £5.8-billion between 2016 and 2021. It supports over 230 programmes in low- and middle-income countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America. A consortium led by IMC Worldwide and Itad is monitoring, evaluating, and learning from the ICF portfolio. This includes using a realist approach to analyse complex and varied evaluative evidence around key learning questions, identified using participatory approaches and based on nested theories of change.

West Africa Food Markets is a DFID programme which aims to take a key role in tackling the causes of the multiple market failures that exist in staple food markets in West Africa and thereby increase income and food security for producers and consumers, both women and men. FoodTrade. It is investing £15 million between 2014-2019, with grants being awarded to private sector companies in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria. Itad is providing the Evaluation Management Unit (EMU) to assess, on a longitudinal basis, WAFM’s relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, sustainability and impact. Itad’s evaluation is based on a realist approach which incorporates a realist synthesis of six in-depth qualitative baseline and endline case studies of WAFM grants.

FoodTrade East and Southern Africa (ESA) is a five-year trade enhancement and promotion programme, with a focus on staple food crops. Itad is undertaking a longitudinal evaluation of the programme through the course of its implementation based on a mixed-methods design. This incorporates six realist baseline and endline case studies of grants awarded to programme recipients.