Impact Practitioners

Learn to use contribution analysis for evaluation of policy research impact

By 27/04/2023

This 11-page academic paper, written by a group of Canadian scientists, reports the experience of using contribution analysis to evaluate the impacts of research on policy. The authors apply the contribution analysis method retrospectively to three cases of the tobacco-control policy influenced by a Canadian research centre Propel; one case study is then used as an illustrative example in the academic paper. 

Step by Step

lContribution analysis (CA) is a theory-based, step-by-step method for monitoring and evaluation of your research projects. It can help you assess cause and effect relationships between your research activities and impacts. It is particularly useful in complex environments such as the policymaking process. 

The contribution analysis usually has six steps. It starts with identifying the attribution problem that needs to be addressed, i.e. selecting the cause-effect questions. Next, you develop a theory of change (ToC), gather the evidence on the ToC and assemble the evidence and assess the contribution story. The fifth step involves looking for additional evidence, which would strengthen your contribution claims, and the final step is revising and strengthening your contribution story. At the heart of a strong CA is a robust theory of change, which essentially serves as an outline for the contribution story. 

Boosting Understanding

The main goal of the scientists evaluating the Propel projects was to experiment with methods relevant to CA and identify those that were ‘good enough’. To achieve this status, the methods have to be sufficiently relevant, rigorous and feasible. The authors get there by carefully selecting theories of change, strategically using social science theories, gathering and using quantitative and qualitative data from diverse sources and other complementary methods to assemble and analyse evidence for testing the ToCs. They conclude that CA is a promising approach for understanding, evaluating and improving the influence of research on policy.


To sum up, contribution analysis is an evaluation method that studies the contribution of research toward observed results. It aims to verify the project’s theory of change, and, at the same time, it takes into account other influencing factors. 

The academic paper shows how to apply the CA, provides plenty of practical tips and guidance, and also explores the limitations and theory. It is especially valuable for those who already know the basics of contribution analysis as an evaluation method. If you’d like to learn more about CA, we recommend reading this brief on its principles and concepts and this blog post about the method

This article is part of our initiative, R2A Impact Practitioners. To find out more, please click here.

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