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Unpacking black boxes: Mechanisms and theory building in evaluation

Astbury, Brad and Leeuw, Frans L. 2010, Unpacking black boxes: Mechanisms and theory building in evaluation, American journal of evaluation, vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 363-381, doi: 10.1177/1098214010371972.

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Title Unpacking black boxes: Mechanisms and theory building in evaluation
Author(s) Astbury, Brad
Leeuw, Frans L.
Journal name American journal of evaluation
Volume number 31
Issue number 3
Start page 363
End page 381
Total pages 19
Publisher Sage
Place of publication London, Eng.
Publication date 2010-09
ISSN 1557-0878
Keyword(s) theory-driven evaluation
social and behavioral mechanisms
realism
program theory
Summary There is growing interest in the concept of ‘‘mechanism’’ across many areas of the social sciences. In the field of program and policy evaluation, a number of scholars have also emphasized the importance of causal mechanisms for explaining how and why programs work. However, there appears to be some ambiguity about the meaning and uses of mechanism-based thinking in both the social science and evaluation literature. In this article we attempt to clarify what is meant by mechanisms in the context of program evaluation by identifying three main characteristics of mechanisms and outlining a possible typology of mechanisms. A number of theoretical and practical implications for evaluators are also discussed, along with some precautions to consider when investigating mechanisms that might plausibly account for program outcomes.
Language eng
DOI 10.1177/1098214010371972
Field of Research 169999 Studies in Human Society not elsewhere classified
Socio Economic Objective 970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society
HERDC Research category C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal
Copyright notice ©2010, Sage Publications
Persistent URL http://hdl.handle.net/10536/DRO/DU:30064439

Document type: Journal Article
Collection: Population Health
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