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

Hamid Roodbari (Sheffield University Management School, The University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)
Karina Nielsen (Sheffield University Management School, The University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)
Carolyn Axtell (Sheffield University Management School, The University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK)
Susan E. Peters (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)
Glorian Sorensen (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)

International Journal of Workplace Health Management

ISSN: 1753-8351

Article publication date: 19 July 2022

Issue publication date: 11 October 2022

116

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank the large, multinational food service company and the site managers, district managers, and frontline workers who participated, for without their participation this study would not have been possible. The authors additionally thank Lorraine Wallace and Lisa Burke who represented the intervention to the study sites and were responsible for acquisition of process tracking data.

Funding: Funding for this project was provided by the US Centers for Disease Control and Pre-vention (CDC), National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health grant R01 OH010811 (Glorian Sorensen, principal investigator). Funding support for Hamid Roodbari was provided by Sheffield University Management School. The contents of this manuscript are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of NIOSH or the NIH.

Citation

Roodbari, H., Nielsen, K., Axtell, C., Peters, S.E. and Sorensen, G. (2022), "Testing middle range theories in realist evaluation: a case of a participatory organisational intervention", International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Vol. 15 No. 6, pp. 694-710. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJWHM-12-2021-0219

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

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