Theory of Change in Evaluation & Monitoring, Research
Theory of change is both a process and a product. At its simplest, theory of change is a dialogue-based process intended to generate a description of a sequence of events that is expected to lead to a particular desired outcome. Theory of change is particularly useful for development research projects that combine research generation with stakeholder engagement and research-into-use activities. This description is captured in a diagram and narrative to provide a guiding framework for the project team and stakeholders. Theory of change starts from a baseline analysis of the context and issues. It then maps out the logical sequence of changes that are anticipated as being necessary amongst stakeholders and in the contextual conditions to support the desired long-term change. This sequence forms the pathway towards impact. Making the links between a research project and development and outcomes explicit and critically analysing them through a theory of change process helps for a more rigorous impact planning, implementation and impact assessment.
Suppose you are actively involved in evaluation process. Theory of Change in evaluation is very important to understand how the activities undertaken by an intervention (such as a project, program or policy) contribute to a chain of results that lead to the intended or observed impacts. Other labels that your colleagues, partners and evaluators might use include: results chain, logic model, program theory, outcome mapping, and impact pathway.
It is important to be aware that there are choices to be made and that informed choices will produce more useful theory of change and better evaluation. A theory of change is often developed during the planning stage but can also be useful for monitoring and evaluation. A good theory of change can help to: develop better Key Evaluation Questions, identify key indicators for monitoring, identify gaps in available data, prioritize additional data collection, and provide a structure for data analysis and reporting. It is essential to understand how a theory of change can used to better monitoring and evaluation. Your intervention might already have a theory of change. You might actually benefit from revising and modifying your theory of change for your evaluation of a program or a poli