Author: Isabel Vogel
Year: 2012
Agency: DFID
Full Citation: Vogel, I. (2012). Review of the use of "theory of change" in international development. (Review Report). London, UK: DFID
Associated Resource Tool(s):
Overview: This review is the most comprehensive literature review and analysis of the use of Theory of Change by development agencies to date. Vogel built on the work of James (2011) and conducted 40 interviews with staff from 25 development organizations, including 9 donor agencies, 7 international NGOS and 9 research and training organizations. There was also a review of published and grey literature on theory of change to identify guidance and tools available. Key findings and guidance from this study are:
  1. A theory of change is most effectively used to map out the logical sequence of an initiative from inputs to outcomes, combined with a deeper critical reflection of people’s underlying assumptions of how and why change might happen as the outcome of an initiatives
  2. While there is no consensus on a single definition of TOC, there is agreement on elements of TOC:
    • Analysis of the context for the initiative, including social, political and environmental conditions, the current state of the problem the project is seeking to influence, and other actors able to influence change;
    • Description of long-term change that the initiative seeks to support and for whose ultimate benefit;
    • A Process/sequence of change anticipated to lead to the desired long-term outcome;
    • Assumptions about how these changes might happen, as a check on whether the activities and outputs are appropriate for influencing change in the desired direction in this context;
    • A diagram and narrative summary that captures the outcomes of the discussion;
    • A methodology for tracking progress and evaluating results.
  3. A theory of change is best kept flexible, not prescribed, or it will quickly become a compliance exercise and lose much of its value
  4. Because of the activation of critical reflection, the TOC approach has potential to support innovation and adaptation in response to dynamic context
  5. Applying a theory of change demands institutional willingness to be realistic and flexible in programming responses, particularly in implementation and performance management.

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