And at the top of the hill was Haytor, which was nice.

…and speeding down the hill came Ramone with his sparkling new ice cream van and a bullet for Molly Macs for breaking his heart.

[this is a post which was written in the summer… I have moved house now, thanks, and it’s lovely.]

So what is the connection between unexpectedly finding Haytor, and Realist Approaches?  Well, recent months have found me boring on to anyone that was unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity about house hunting.  And the thing about house hunting is that there are always more houses to hunt.  So, this picture was taken last Friday evening, as I’d just been to visit a garden flat in Ilsington, and took a left and not a right turn upon leaving, and so instead of finding myself in Sigford, I happened upon Haytor.  Which was nice.

Sorry, yes, still haven’t got to the connection.  Okay, so finding a new home – there’s always more of them out there, and the thing is, you’re always going to wonder if the one that you’ve found is the right one/best one so you can stop looking… and you’ll also find interesting and pretty things along the way (like unexpected Dartmoor) which can be distracting or crucially important….. but the search for houses really tends to be governed by external factors: how much time have you got? how much money have you got? etc etc.

….. which is a bit like realist synthesis…. it might be the objective of the realist synthesis to achieve theoretical saturation, so that we can be pretty confident that there is ‘no more’ important evidence to capture for the particular theory we are building or testing…. but the truth is, a more practical approach tends to be necessary – there will always be further evidence that would be brought to bear, to further build or refine our thinking….  so when we ‘stop’ searching, are we making a judgement which is based more on external factors to the project (time, funding), rather than the internal factors (we’ve found it all)?  When does synthesis stop?

My colleagues at UEMS who have far more experience than me in research, are going to be invaluable in helping judge when the time has come to down tools, bearing in mind there will always be more explanations, and always more houses.

We’ve been having fun all summer long…

I like the Beach Boys, listening to their music reminds me of the summer, and as I sit here listening to the rain thunder down on the roof of the Veysey Building I am reflecting on the summer we’ve had.

Back in June, a few of us caught up with Ray Pawson and colleagues in Leeds.  It was a useful and interesting time – there’s nothing quite like talking with people that you share a methodological sympathy with – as we discussed our present work, ideas for the future and where realist approaches may go in the longer term.

Rob’s been having fun all summer long, in Australia… but it’s not all been play- the cost-effectiveness review is almost finished, and alongside going walkabout with the family, he’s also been running workshops and talking at conferences – including a day long session on realist methods with Gill Westhorpe at the Australian Evaluation Society Conference in Brisbane last month. We’ve kept in touch and have continued work on the shared care project (obvs), and it has been an interesting, and at times, unnerving experience.

For instance, before Rob went, we identified a set of papers which we felt would offer the thickest, richest explanatory detail to enable us to test out our theories on how shared care works.  Unfortunately, when it came to data extraction, these papers just didn’t cut it – they were not truly relevant to the theories we had developed – so whilst they were helpfully descriptive and theoretical, it didn’t really matter, because they weren’t related to our theories.  This was a big disappointment, as it set the project back a couple of weeks whilst I re-screened and did further searches and retrievals in order to ensure that the studies being included in phase 2 really were going to help us test.

Then there was the data extraction form – this went through about 4 iterations, before the one being used was developed, but even so, there are still gaps, and additional fields are still being added – apparently this is not unusual so I’m not overtly concerned.  What I am concerned about it how much time it will take to data extract – even though Pawson states in the 2006 book that not every part of every study will speak to every part of every theory (i.e. one is selective, led by theory, as to what it is important to ‘extract’ from the text), you still have to read the whole thing, and extract as much as you can – so whilst it is okay to have blank fields on the DE forms, you have to be pretty sure you’ve thoroughly ransacked the article and sucked out its marrow to be confident.  But apparently that is not unusual either.  What has been unnerving is making these decisions on a semi-confident ‘we’ll see’ kind of basis.  Although you could also interpret that as ‘flexible thinking and practice’… it’s all in the branding I guess.

Mark’s been having fun all summer too.  Some of us went to the Cochrane Colloquium in Quebec, where he ran a couple of workshops on realist approaches and theory in systematic reviews (he was v. good) with Justin Jagosh from McGill University in Vancouver, and Geoff Wong from Queen Mary’s in London.  Harriet and I had an abstract on how to build a programme theory accepted for presentation and that went really well too.  The questions we were asked afterwards demonstrated people had understood what we were talking about and we made some valuable connections throughout the week for our current work and future research plans .  It was just such a shame we couldn’t have done the presentation in French.

The 21st Gala celebrations were quite an experience, and I found myself on the one hand moved (by the heartfelt farewells to a long serving cochranite) and on the other absolutely livid (for one example the portrayal of someone with mental health issues as gurning, incoherent and stupid).  But the disco dancing afterwards was ace, and Exeter totally owned the dancefloor.

So it’s been a good summer.  But it is over now.  I know this because I bought a new notebook in Paperchase yesterday.  And that always signifies the start of the autumn term.

Gala celebrations – wanna dance?