Volume 12 Issue 1 (2016)

Realist Review: Current Practice and Future Prospects

Rigmor C. Berg
Norwegian Institute of Public Health
Julie Nanavati
Welch Medical Library, Johns Hopkins University
Published July 8, 2016
  • systematic review,
  • systematic scoping review,
  • mapping review,
  • social intervention,
  • realist review,
  • realist synthesis,
  • RAMESES publication standards
  • ...More


Realist review has emerged as a specific literature review approach that is concerned with explaining the outcomes of complex intervention programs. We undertook a systematic scoping review to examine the current practice of realist review. A systematic scoping review is a process of mapping the existing evidence base on a particular topic. We identified a growing body of literature using the realist review approach. We selected 54 reviews for our study. These reviews covered a range of topics, including health care, education, management, and public safety. We found that the initial process of exploratory scoping of the literature was described in only 58 per cent of the reviews. The approaches regarding appraisal, analysis, and synthesis of the selected studies were poorly described in most reviews. Overall, there was little uniformity and transparency regarding many methodological issues. Specific methodological guidance may need to be developed if realist reviews are to have a more uniform and transparent approach.