A Realist Alternative to Randomised Control Trials: A Bridge Not a Barrier?
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Wendy Olsen’s “Bridging to action” is a timely intervention that seeks to reorient development research (Olsen 2019a). Olsen’s position takes as its point of departure the growing schism between action research and the use of randomised control trials (RCTs) and specifically argues for a realist alternative approach as one way to underpin and operationalise development research. In the following short essay, I set out the terms of the underpinning warrant for the argument, and in the conclusion suggest additional ways to elaborate.
The Problem to be Addressed
RCTs focus on an observable specific feature of a situation, that can, through design, “in principle” be isolated, seek equivalent groups and apply an intervention to a treatment group, which can then be contrasted with a control group; the intervention is subject to a hypothesis test and an analytical statistical measure of the existence and strengthof an effect. For advocates of RCTs, the approach encourages a focus on “what...
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