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Testing middle range theories in realist evaluation: a case of a participatory organisational intervention

Roodbari, Hamid, Nielsen, Karina, Axtell, Carolyn, Peters, Susan E., Sorensen, Glorian (2022) Testing middle range theories in realist evaluation: a case of a participatory organisational intervention. International Journal of Workplace Health Management, . ISSN 1753-8351. (doi:10.1108/IJWHM-12-2021-0219) (KAR id:96998)


Purpose: Realist evaluation seeks to answer the question of “what works for whom in which circumstances?” through developing and testing middle range theories (MRTs). MRTs are programme theories that outline how certain mechanisms of an intervention work in a specific context to bring about certain outcomes. In this paper, the authors tested an initial MRT about the mechanism of participation. The authors used evidence from a participatory organisational intervention in five worksites of a large multi-national organisation in the US food service industry.

Design/methodology/approach: Qualitative data from 89 process tracking documents and 24 post-intervention, semi-structured interviews with intervention stakeholders were analysed using template analysis.

Findings: The operationalised mechanism was partial worksite managers’ engagement with the research team. Six contextual factors (e.g. high workload) impaired participation, and one contextual factor (i.e. existing participatory practices) facilitated participation. Worksite managers’ participation resulted in limited improvement in their awareness of how working conditions can impact on their employees’ safety, health, and well-being. Based on these findings, the authors modified the initial MRT into an empirical MRT.

Originality/value: This paper contributes to the understanding of “what works for whom in which circumstances” regarding participation in organisational interventions.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1108/IJWHM-12-2021-0219
Additional information: This author accepted manuscript is deposited under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC) licence. This means that anyone may distribute, adapt, and build upon the work for non-commercial purposes, subject to full attribution. If you wish to use this manuscript for commercial purposes, please contact
Subjects: H Social Sciences
Divisions: Divisions > Kent Business School - Division > Department of Leadership and Management
Funders: University of Sheffield (
Depositing User: Hamid Roodbari
Date Deposited: 20 Sep 2022 09:22 UTC
Last Modified: 21 Sep 2022 08:44 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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