Practical Approaches to Theories of Change in Conflict, Security & Justice Programmes Part I: What they are, different types, how to develop and use them

Practical Approaches to Theories of Change in Conflict, Security & Justice Programmes Part I: What they are, different types, how to develop and use them

This paper is part of a two-part series on theories of change in conflict, security and justice programmes.

Part I first explores the fundamentals of theories of change: what they are, why they are important, and
how to create a theory of change. It explores theories of change at different levels, and concludes with
advice on how theories of change can enhance the effectiveness and relevance of programming.

Part II continues to build upon Part I by focusing on how theories of change can be used in the
monitoring and evaluation stages of the project cycle. It provides practical guidance on how and why to
use theories of change-focused monitoring and evaluation strategies, particularly exploring the ways in
which theories of change can be included in any evaluation approach.

Key questions this document addresses:

  • What are theories of change& why do we care?
  • What are the different types & levels of theories of change?
  • How should I develop theories of change?
  • How should I use theories of change?

Key messages/essential “take aways”:

  • A basic definition applicable to all initiatives that seek to induce change is as follows:A theory of change explains why and how we think certain actions will produce desired change in a given context.
  • In their simplest form, Theories of change are expressed in the following form:
    • “If we do X (action),then we will produce Y (change/shift towards peace, justice, security)”
    • “We believe that by doing X (action) successfully, we will produce Y (movement towards a desired goal)”
  • It is often helpful and clarifying to extend the statement a bit further by adding at least some of the rationale or logic in a “because” phrase. This then produces the formula: “Ifwe do X…,thenY...,becauseZ….”
  • Making a theory of change explicit allows us to reveal ourassumptionsabout how change will happen, how and why our chosen strategy or programme will achieve its outcomes and desired impacts, and why it will function better than others in this context. Revealing these assumptions also helps identify gaps and unmet needs, including additional necessary activities or actors that should be engaged. We may also detect activities that are extraneous, weak or that fail to contribute to achieving the overall goal.
  • Theories of changed are embedded in a particularcontextand should be considered incontext. How change can or will occur in one context cannot be automatically transferred to another setting. Theories of change must therefore be linked to a robustconflict analysis, in order to ensure that programming addresses the key drivers of conflict and fragility in the context.
  • Theories of change can be developed or identified at severaldifferent levels. These range from the strategic or policy level, through broad sectoral or program levels, to project--‐level theories, and finally micro--‐level theories about specific limited activities.
    • Strategic Level:What is the change logic that informs the choice of priority areas within a country strategy (formal or informal)—and why were other options not chosen?
    • Portfolio/Sector/Programme Level:What are the two or three dominant theories of change embedded in the programming within the sector/portfolio? How will the combined efforts of the range of funded projects achieve desired changes (results) within a priority area?
    • Project Level:What is the core theory of change informing the project approach? How will reaching the project goal/objective contribute to the larger goals/objectives at the sector/programme level?
    • Activity Level:How will the activity (training, dialogue…) produce the intended micro--‐ level change(s) and, ultimately, lead to the project objectives/goals?
  • It is never too late to develop a theory of change;it can be useful during all stages of the programming cycle.


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