This is a review of the concepts and common debates within ‘Theory of
Change’ (ToC) material, resulting from a search and detailed analysis of
available donor, agency and expert guidance documents. The review was
undertaken as part of a Justice and Security Research Program (JSRP) and
The Asia Foundation (TAF) collaborative project, and focuses on the
field of international development. The project will explore the use of
Theories of Change (ToCs) in international development programming, with
field research commencing in August 2012. While this document will
specifically underpin the research of this collaboration, we also hope
that it will be of interest to a wider audience of those attempting to
come to grips with ToC and its associated literature.
From the literature, we find that there is no consensus on how to define
ToC, although it is commonly understood as an articulation of how and
why a given intervention will lead to specific change. We identify four
main purposes of ToC – strategic planning, description, monitoring and
evaluation and learning – although these inevitably overlap. For this
reason, we have adopted the term ‘ToC approaches’ to identify the range
of applications associated with this term. Additionally, we identify
some confusion in the terminology associated with ToC. Of particular
note is the lack of clarity surrounding the use of the terms
‘assumption’ and ‘evidence’. Finally, we have also drawn out information
on what authors feel makes for ToC ‘best practice’ in terms of both
content and process, alongside an exploration of the remaining gaps
where more clarity is needed.
A number of ‘key issues’ are highlighted throughout this review. These
points are an attempt to frame the literature reviewed analytically, as
informed by the specific focus of the JSRP-TAF collaboration. These
issues are varied and include the confusion surrounding ToC definitions
and use, the need to ‘sell’ a ToC to a funder, how one can know which
‘level’ a ToC should operate on, the relationship between ToC and
evidence-based policy, and the potential for accuracy, honesty and
transparency in the use of ToC approaches.
This paper does not aim to give definitive answers on ToC; indeed there
are many remaining important issues that lie beyond the scope of this
review. However, in highlighting a number of key issues surrounding
current understandings of ToC approaches, this review hopes to pave the
way for more constructive and critical discussion of both the concept
and practical application of ToCs.
Stein, D.; Valters, C. Understanding ‘Theory of Change’ in international development. A review of existing knowledge. Justice and Security Research Programme, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), London, UK (2012) 20 pp. [JSRP Paper 1]
Understanding ‘Theory of Change’ in international development. A review of existing knowledge.