Making your research accessible

Key questions to ask when putting together a Theory of Change for Research Uptake (Part 2 of 2)

By 22/02/2012

The following two questions bring into focus the need to understand the non-linearity of research uptake, and the benefits of sharing your successes in this area (and the failures). These have been treated as overarching questions that relate to every step of developing a ToC (see Figure 1 below). For many, these questions may be an afterthought, but to fully utilise this process it’s vital that these questions are considered, as both have the potential to initiate powerful learning for you and others.

Figure 1. Theory of Change for Research Uptake

5. Does your approach capture the non-linearity of policy-influence and research uptake?

Things will undoubtedly take twists and turns over the course of a programme and this means a ToC needs to try and take these things into account. If your programme is dependent on particular things coming together, you really must question what will happen if they don’t. You have to be realistic and realise that all the changes you would like to see happen, may not materialise. When things don’t go to plan, it’s important that you can say why they didn’t and adjust your programme to ensure you are still working towards your vision.

For instance, it may become apparent over the course of a programme that your target audience needs to change or to be adjusted. If you extensively mapped different audiences at the planning stage of the programme, then it might be that you can shift your attention to another group relatively easily. If not, then you have some work to do and this can create delays and confusion across a programme. It’s much better to have thought about potential pitfalls and potential adjustments such as this before the programme starts, so that changes can be made easily and without too much difficulty.

6. Are you ready to share your successes and show how you brought about change?

Your programme’s success is just one part of a wider community of people working for change. These people might be working in the same area as you, a related area or a very different area. This does not matter, because you share a common goal: to make change happen through research uptake. In this vein it’s vital that you use your own approach as a platform for dialogue and learning. There are four principle reasons:

  1. To understand and share the lessons learned about what really works to achieve lasting change.
  2. To help you report clearly on your achievements and the lessons learnt and your contribution to lasting change.
  3. To help share your learning and contribute to social learning about how similar change can be achieved in other contexts.
  4. To persuade your donors to invest in longer term outcomes rather than only short term projects (Keystone, pg. 6)

Read part 1.

Both parts of this post are available as a PDF download via the following link: Key questions to ask when putting together a Theory of Change for Research Uptake by Andrew Clappison


Thanks to IDS for allowing me to work with them on part of the process of developing a ToC for the Transform Nutrition RPC.  Thanks to Megan Lloyd-Laney for her comments and thoughts on the initial draft.


Kendall Guthrie, Justin Louie, Tom David and Catherine Crystal Foster (2005). The Challenge of Assessing Policy and Advocacy Activities: Strategies for a Prospective Evaluation Approach, The California Endowment

Jennifer Chapman and Amboka Wameyo (2001). Monitoring and Evaluating Advocacy:A Scoping Study, ActionAid

Keystone Accountability (2008). Developing a theory of change: A guide to developing a theory of change as a framework for inclusive dialogue, learning and accountability for social impact

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