Background: Realist evaluation is increasingly used in health services and other fields of research and evaluation. No previous standards exist for reporting realist evaluations. This standard was developed as part of the RAMESES II project. The project's aim is to produce initial reporting standards for realist evaluations.
Methods: We purposively recruited a maximum variety sample of an international group of experts in realist evaluation to our online Delphi panel. Panel members came from a variety of disciplines, sectors and policy fields. We prepared the briefing materials for our Delphi panel by summarising the most recent literature on realist evaluations to identify how and why rigour had been demonstrated and where gaps in expertise and rigour were evident. We also drew on our collective experience as realist evaluators, in training and supporting realist evaluations, and on the RAMESES email list to help us develop the briefing materials. Through discussion within the project team, we developed a list of issues related to quality that needed to be addressed when carrying out realist evaluations. These were then shared with the panel members and their feedback was sought. Once the panel members had provided their feedback on our briefing materials, we constructed a set of items for potential inclusion in the reporting standards and circulated these online to panel members. Panel members were asked to rank each potential item twice on a 7-point Likert scale, once for relevance and once for validity. They were also encouraged to provide free text comments.
Results: We recruited 35 panel members from 27 organisations across six countries from nine different disciplines. Within three rounds our Delphi panel was able to reach consensus on 20 items that should be included in the reporting standards for realist evaluations. The overall response rates for all items for rounds 1, 2 and 3 were 94 %, 76 % and 80 %, respectively.
Conclusion: These reporting standards for realist evaluations have been developed by drawing on a range of sources. We hope that these standards will lead to greater consistency and rigour of reporting and make realist evaluation reports more accessible, usable and helpful to different stakeholders.
Keywords: Delphi approach; Realist evaluation; Reporting guidelines.