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Using the realist perspective to link theory from qualitative evidence synthesis to quantitative studies: broadening the matrix approach.

Grootel, L. van, Wesel, F. van, O'Mara-Eves, A., Thomas, J., Hox, J., Boeije, H. Using the realist perspective to link theory from qualitative evidence synthesis to quantitative studies: broadening the matrix approach. Research Synthesis Methods: 2017, 8(3), 303-311
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Background
This study describes an approach for the use of a specific type of qualitative evidence synthesis in the matrix approach, a mixed studies reviewing method. The matrix approach compares quantitative and qualitative data on the review level by juxtaposing concrete recommendations from the qualitative evidence synthesis against interventions in primary quantitative studies. However, types of qualitative evidence syntheses that are associated with theory building generate theoretical models instead of recommendations. Therefore, the output from these types of qualitative evidence syntheses cannot directly be used for the matrix approach but requires transformation. This approach allows for the transformation of these types of output.

Method
The approach enables the inference of moderation effects instead of direct effects from the theoretical model developed in a qualitative evidence synthesis. Recommendations for practice are formulated on the basis of interactional relations inferred from the qualitative evidence synthesis. In doing so, we apply the realist perspective to model variables from the qualitative evidence synthesis according to the context-mechanism-outcome configuration.

Findings
A worked example shows that it is possible to identify recommendations from a theory-building qualitative evidence synthesis using the realist perspective. We created subsets of the interventions from primary quantitative studies based on whether they matched the recommendations or not and compared the weighted mean effect sizes of the subsets. The comparison shows a slight difference in effect sizes between the groups of studies. The study concludes that the approach enhances the applicability of the matrix approach. (aut. ref.)