Impact Practitioners

How to map stakeholders and develop a Theory of Change – insights from Growth research programme

By 29/06/2023

This 20-page guidance note written by Louise Shaxson for the DFID-ESRC Growth Research Programme (DEGRP) covers stakeholder mapping and the development of a Theory of Change. It can help you think about what impacts could be achieved and why, who is involved, and how change happens.

According to Shaxson, there are two crucial steps you need to take when planning for policy and practice impact: 1) mapping your stakeholders and 2) developing a theory of change. These two activities will help you understand the context and what policy impact and change might look like for your project. 

For stakeholder mapping, Shaxson recommends using the Alignment, Interest and Influence Matrix. It is a simple tool that will help you identify the full range of stakeholders. The matrix has three dimensions: the degree of stakeholder’s interest in your research topic, the degree of influence the stakeholder has and the degree of the stakeholder’s alignment with your research. The guidance note describes the matrix in detail and provides a step-by-step guide for using it. 

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Next, the guidance note suggests developing a Theory of Change (ToC) to get ideas of how your work with stakeholders might lead to a change. Shaxson broke down the process of developing a ToC into three steps:

  1. Analysis of the current context

The point of this step is to look for aspects of the context that may affect how change happens. For example, you can examine what the current ideas around your issue are, who the main interest groups are and what processes might influence policymaking.

  1. Developing Theories of Change

For key stakeholders, think about the changes in behaviour you would:

    • a) Expect to see

E.g. the early positive responses to your research (attending meetings and giving feedback on a publication).

    • b) Like to see … messages are being taken on board 

E.g. active engagement (for example asking you to provide information on project-related issues).

    • c) Love to see … messages have been internalised 

E.g. deeper transformations in behaviour (for instance incorporating messages from your project into a strategy document). 

The guidance note suggests presenting the Theory of Change in a table in which you will be able to track your general statement of change for each category, the stakeholders involved and the specific indicators you will use to track it. It also gives an example ToC to help you come up with yours. 

  1. Identifying the project’s role and checking assumptions 

The final step looks at the contributions to change made by you and by others, which adds two columns to your ToC table created in Step 2. The first added column describes what your project will contribute and the second one looks at what you assume others will do. 

After you develop your ToC, you should update your impact pathway: refine your understanding of the types of impact your project can have, be clear about the limits and develop concrete indicators of impact. 

The guidance note stresses that ToCs are not static and advises researchers to often revise them to check if the project plans need any adjusting.

Overall, the DEGRP impact guidance note is an accessible resource that can help you develop your Theory of Change and map stakeholders. Although it was developed for a specific programme, its insights are applicable across many disciplines and research programmes. This article is part of our initiative, R2A Impact Practitioners. To find out more, please click here.

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