Review of the use of 'Theory of Change' in international development. Review Report.


'Theory of change' is an outcomes-based approach which applies critical thinking to the design, implementation and evaluation of initiatives and programmes intended to support change in their contexts.

It is being increasingly used in international development by a wide range of governmental, bilateral and multi-lateral development agencies, civil society organisations, international non-governmental organisations and research programmes intended to support development outcomes.

DFID commissioned this review of how theory of change is being used in order to learn from this growing area of practice. DFID has been working formally with theory of change in in its programming since 2010. The purpose was to identify areas of consensus, debate and innovation in order to inform a more consistent approach within DFID.

The review report is structured around nine topics that were identified through scoping interviews with key DFID staff and partners. The review focused on the practical aspects of working with theory of change in programmes.

To assist the reader, for each topic, key points are highlighted at the start of each section, the findings illustrated with examples. Practical suggestions are highlighted. Box Examples are also provided to illustrate people's experience, from donors to implementing agencies and projects. The appendices contain more examples of documented theories of change and also guidelines and tools to support people working with theory of change.

The report sections are:
Section 1: Executive summary
Section 2: Who is using theory of change in international development?

Section 3: What is 'theory of change thinking' in practice?
Section 4: Why are the 'assumptions' so important in theory of change?
Section 5: What makes a good quality theory of change process and product?
Section 6: Representing theories of change
Section 7: Using evidence to support a theory of change process?
Section 8: Using theory of change thinking to support evaluation, impact assessment and learning
Section 9: Using theory of change to address complex aspects of programmes and emergent strategy
Section 10: Embedding on-going theory of change thinking and learning
Section 11: Conclusions


Vogel, I. Review of the use of ‘Theory of Change’ in international development. Review Report. DFID, London, UK (2012) 83 pp.

Published 1 January 2012