Improving outcomes through Q sort based realist evaluation: A Masterclass

Course Group: 
Public Sector Management

It is widely accepted that context matters because it influences both the choices that people make and the possible outcomes of chosen interventions. Realist evaluation aims to identify the underlying generative mechanisms that explain ‘how’ the outcomes were caused and the influence of context. In doing so realist evaluators ask “What works, for whom, in what respects, to what extent, in what contexts, and why?”. At a time when members of the Australian Public Service are being challenged to be better evaluators this masterclass is designed for those who need to undertake effective evaluation.  We will consider issues such as why use realist evaluation, what type of methodology and methods to use, the potential contribution of Q methodology and ideas for future practice.

At the end of the masterclass, participants will:

  • Understand why and when a realist evaluation strategy would be appropriate;
  • Recognise the role and implications of context upon evaluation;
  • Have an overview of the different methodology and methods that could be used;
  • Have an insight into how to identify and develop the concourse and statements for a Q based evaluation;
  • Develop possible strategies for practice.


Masterclass format

This experiential masterclass will give participants an opportunity, in a safe space, to explore the potential of realist evaluation in general, and Q sort based strategies in particular. 

Drawing on the latest research and practical knowledge from Australia and the UK, this interactive masterclass will explore a number of case studies and presenters will work with participants to consider how these lessons can be applied in their own organisations.

Who Should Attend

Masterclass Outline

Presenter Information

Dates & Registration


Who Should Attend

This masterclass is designed for those undertaking evaluation in government, as well as those working closely with government in not-for-profit and commercial organisations.


Masterclass Outline

9:00 am to 9.15 am




9:15 am to 9.35 am

Introductions & Program Overview of the Day



9.35 am to 10.35 am



10.35 am to 11.20 am


Session: Developing a program theory

Professor Steven Henderson


Session: A Case example of a Q based evaluation

Professor Steven Henderson


11.20 am to 11.40 am


11.40 am – 12.45 pm

Refreshment break


Session: Developing a concourse and statements

Professor Steven Henderson


12:45 pm to 1:30 pm




1:30 pm to 2:15 pm



2.15 pm – 2.45 pm

Session: Developing a concourse and statements continued

Professor Steven Henderson


Session: Undertaking the Q

Professor Steven Henderson


2:45 pm to 3.00 pm


3.00 pm to 4.30 pm

Refreshment break


Session: Testing the program theory – narratives and elements

Professor Steven Henderson


4:30 pm to 5.00 pm

Recap of day



5.00 pm


Presenter Information

Professor Steven Henderson

Professor Steven Henderson is the Head of Impact and Social Innovation and Professor of Strategy at the Southampton Solent University. He trained as an economist at the University of Kent at Canterbury and his main research and teaching interests include social entrepreneurship, strategic management, research skills, critical management and PhD supervision. His inaugural professorial lecture – Strategies for Hunting the Snark - was published recently in the International Journal of Change Management.

In recent years work has focused upon evaluation of social projects, including programmes designed to reduce bullying in hospitals,  regenerate town centres with creative industries, mentor struggling children, boosting employment and employability and values based culture change. Evaluations have always followed a realist method, and with Dr. Brain Wink he has pioneered the use of the Q-Sort method as a way of assessing the effectiveness of mechanisms as part of realist evaluation. They offer operant subjectivity and its attendant Q sort method as means to formalise the “whom” component of realist evaluation, thereby offering insights into worldview, mechanism and context.

Professor Deborah Blackman

Deborah Blackman is a Professor in Public Sector Management Strategy and Deputy Director of the Public Service Research Group a UNSW, Canberra. She researches knowledge transfer in a range of applied, real world contexts. The common theme of her work is creating new organisational conversations in order to improve organisational effectiveness. Research projects have included leading a joint collaborative project with the Australian Public Service Commission which is working on Strengthening the Performance Management Framework; the role of social capital in long-term disaster recovery funded by the Toyota foundation, and an ARC grant considering Whole of Government from which she developed a new diagnostic model to support effective joined-up working. She has written extensively on performance management with articles in Review of Public Personnel Administration, Australian Journal of Public Management and Journal of Organizational Change Management. For more information please see; 


Dates & Registration

Duration: 1 day, Monday 15 October 2018

Delivery Mode:  face to face

Standard Price: $790

Location: SR07 | Lecture Theatre North (Building 32) | UNSW Canberra at Australian Defence Force Academy, Northcott Drive Canberra