‘Theories of change’: An expanding resource list

Posted on 17 May 2011 in Making your research accessible by

We have developed the following list of resources for those researchers and organisations looking to develop a ‘theory of change’ for their work. As we recently announced on R2A all new DFID-funded Research Programme Consortia are required to develop a theory during their inception phase. We will add to this list overtime as we become aware of other resources. If you think we have missed something that would be useful to others please let us know*.

1. Theory of Change.org is a collaborative project of the Aspen Institute and ActKnowledge, offering a wide array of resources, tools, tips, and examples of theories of change.

2. A guide to monitoring and evaluating policy influence.The following article written by Harry Jones at ODI has a very useful introduction to the three  of the most common approaches to theories of change: causal path, dimensions of influence and actor-centred theories.

3. Keystone have developed some useful resources on how to develop a theory of change, plus they also provide a useful template to start developing your own theory.

  • Theory of Change guide A guide to developing a theory of change as a framework for inclusive dialogue, learning and accountability for social impact.
  • Theory of Change template This interactive PDF template allows you to input information directly into it to build your theory of change.

4. The Social Framework developed by Rick Davies is an actor centred  approach that attempts to map pathways to change through different actors and their relationships to each other.

5. Pathways for Change: 6 Theories about How Policy Change Happens: This brief lays out six theories grounded in diverse social science disciplines and worldviews that have relevance to advocacy and policy change efforts. These theories can inform the development of advocacy theories of change and logic models.

6. A guide to measuring advocacy and policy: A guide by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that comes from an advocacy and policy influence perspective with a good section on theory of change.

7. The challenge of assessing policy and advocacy activities: Strategies for a prospective evaluation approach. This guide focuses on policy change evaluation and has an informative section on theory of change, outlining a number of different approaches and practical considerations.

8. Using Programme Theory to Evaluate Complicated and Complex Aspects of Interventions. In this article Patricia Rogers provides a wealth of guidance about how to fit theories of change to complex challenges, such as incorporating simultaneous causal strands (two or more chains of events that are all required for the intervention to succeed) or alternative causal strands (where a programme could work through one or another path). This article is a good way into wider academic writing on the subject.

9. A ‘Systemic Theories of Change’ Approach for Purposeful Capacity Development. This article by Alfredo Ortiz Aragón and Juan Carlos Giles Macedo introduces ‘systemic theories of change’ (STOC), for organisational capacity development. It argues that capacity development should be understood as systemic learning. The STOC approach promotes reflection on how individuals, organisations, and broader social groups and societal configurations, understand how change occurs. This makes it possible to build improved strategic and methodological clarity about how we might continually develop the capacities to contribute more effectively to emergent, social change in highly complex environments.

10. A Three-fold Theory of Social Change and Implications for Practice, Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation by Doug Reeler of CDRA. This paper lays out some very interesting theories of how social change happens.

11. Capacity Development, Institutional Change and Theory of Change: What do we mean and where are the linkages. This paper gives a good introduction to 3 major themes, Capacity Development, Institutional Change and
Theories of Change.

12. A Case for Surfacing Theories of Change for Purposeful Organisational Capacity Development.This article by  Alfredo Ortiz Aragón argues that the capacities that different organizations value are conditioned by a mix of individual, organizational and societal worldviews, including deeply held assumptions on the nature of change and one’s roles in affecting change. It posits that the processes SCOs use to attempt to intentionally ‘build’ their capacities should surface these worldviews in order to find more purposeful and systemic relationships between its internal processes, systems and capacities and the complex change that an organization seeks to support.

13. Monitoring & Evaluation of Advocacy Campaigns: Literature Review. This literature review by Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance was undertaken in preparation for developing a Monitoring and Evaluation Tool for advocacy work. There is a useful section on Theories of Change, including a useful overview of current thinking on M&E relating to advocacy.

*This resource list was initially inspired by a conversation that took place on the Evidence Based Policy in Development Network. Resources 10-12 were inspired by a blog written by Enrique Mendizabal, which appeared On think tanks.