This article outlines how a realist evaluation of dementia care in hospitals used non-participant observation to support the refinement and testing of mechanisms likely to lead to the use of person-centred care. We found that comments and explanations of their actions from hospital staff during observation periods provided insights into the reasoning that generated their actions for care in real time. This informed subsequent data collection and analysis. Two worked examples of mechanisms first identified during non-participant observation demonstrate (1) how they were uncovered, and (2) how this informed research activities for theory refinement. Early, iterative engagement with the analytic process, primarily involving reflection and debate with the research team, maximised the potential of observation data to support surfacing underlying mechanisms, linking them to specific contexts and outcomes.
- non-participant observation
- realist evaluation