Syndicate content

how change happens

Blog Post of the Month: The Best Evidence Yet on How Theories of Change are Being Used in Aid and Development Work

Duncan Green's picture
Each month, People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion.

In September 2014, the most popular blog post was "The Best Evidence Yet on How Theories of Change are Being Used in Aid and Development Work"

In this post, Duncan Green, provides an overview of Craig Valters’ new paper ‘Theories of Change in International Development: Communication, Learning or Accountability’  The paper, and Duncan's blog post, help answer the question: will Theories of Change "go the way of the logframe, starting out as a good idea, but being steadily dumbed down into a counterproductive tickbox exercise by the procedural demands of the aid business?"

Read the blog post to learn more!
 

How Change Happens: Great New Case Studies + Analysis on ‘Politically Smart, Locally Led Development’

Duncan Green's picture

The research star of the show at last week’s Thinking and Working Politically event was a great new ODI paper from David Booth and Sue Unsworth. Bioversity International/Ronnie Vernooy

Politically smart, locally led development seeks to identify the secret sauce behind 7 large and successful aid programmes: a rural livelihoods programme in India; land titling and tax reform in the Philippines; disarmament, demobilization and reintegration in the Eastern Congo; the EU’s global plan of action to reduce illegal logging; civil society advocacy on rice, education and HIV in Burma and inclusive governance in Nepal.

The paper identifies a number of common elements:

Theories of Change, Stakeholders, Imagined Beneficiaries, & Stealing from Product Design. That is, Meet ‘Mary.’

Heather Lanthorn's picture

I have been thinking a lot about ‘theories of change’ this week (as I was here).  Actually, I have been thinking more about ‘conceptual models,’ which was the term by which I was first introduced to the general idea* and the term I still prefer because it implies more uncertainty and greater scope for tinkering than does ‘theory.’ (I accept that ‘theory of change’ has been branded and that I have to live with it, but I don’t have to like it.)

Regardless of the term, the approach of thinking seriously about how behavioral, social and economic change happens is important but often overlooked during the planning stages of projects/programs/policies and linked evaluations. Moreover, they are glossed over in the analysis and reporting stages, left to academic speculation in the discussion section of an evaluation paper and not informed by talking systematically to those people who were intended to benefit from the program.

I think there is growing recognition that building a theory of change is something that should happen, at least in part, backwards (among other places where this is discussed is in ‘evidence-based policy’ with the idea of a ‘pre-mortem‘ and ‘thinking step-by-step and thinking backwards‘).  That is, you start with the end goal, usually some variant of ‘peace,’ ‘satisfaction,’ ‘wellbeing,’ ‘capabilities,’** etc., in mind and work backwards as to how you are going to get there from here.

The Best Evidence Yet on How Theories of Change are Being Used in Aid and Development Work

Duncan Green's picture

If you are interested in Theories of Change (ToCs), you have to read Craig Valters’ new paper ‘Theories of Change in International Development: Communication, Learning or Accountability’ or at least, his accompanying blog. The paper draws on the fascinating collaboration between the LSE and The Asia Foundation, in which TAF gave LSE researchers access to its country programmes and asked them to study their use of ToCs. That means Craig has been able to observe their use (and abuse) in practice.

What this paper helps answer is the question I raised a while ago – will ToCs go the way of the logframe, starting out as a good idea, but being steadily dumbed down into a counterproductive tickbox exercise by the procedural demands of the aid business?

Why is it so much Harder to Talk about Politics than about Policies?

Duncan Green's picture

I’ve been running into some resistance recently in writing about politics, and some interesting patterns are starting to emerge.

Firstly, when I sent round a draft piece on the politics and policies of national redistribution (i.e. when you look at the countries who have reduced inequality, what did they do and what were the politics that led to them doing it?) the subtext from a number of commentators in the countries concerned was ‘love the policies, but could you not talk about the politics please?’

They felt that talking about politics and political players (whether leaders or movements), especially in a positive way (Government of X has done brilliantly on Y), could be politically compromising or just felt anxious about being seen as naive, or being denounced by the radicals. Oppositionalism (all politicians are venal, all leaders betray, any progress is purely a grudging response to overwhelming public pressure from below) seems much easier (see right). If politics is mentioned at all, it’s just through the cop-out of lamenting the lack of political will (which all too often means telling politicians to do things that will get them chucked out of power or shot, and then condemning them when they refuse).

How Can We Get Better at Promoting Active Citizenship? Lessons from Ten Case Studies

Duncan Green's picture

Over the last few months I’ve been writing a series of ten case studies on Oxfam’s work in promoting active citizenship, and blogging the drafts for comments (thanks for those – really helpful). These will be published shortly, along with an overview paper on the patterns that emerged across the ten studies. Here are some highlights – the full paper is here, Active Citizenship synthesis consultation draft. Comments very welcome.
 

Lessons on Programme Design

The Right Partners are Indispensable: Whether programmes flourish or fail depends in large part on the role of partners, usually local NGOs or civil society organizations, but sometimes also individuals, consultants or academics. Good partners bring an understanding of local context and culture (especially important when working with excluded minorities such as the tribal peoples of Chhattisgarh); they often have well-developed networks with those in positions of local power – crucial for brokering discussions with citizens’ groups. And they will remain working in the area long after the programme has moved on.

Starting with Power Analysis: Promoting active citizenship means building the power of citizens, starting with their internal ‘power within’ – self confidence and assertiveness, especially in work on gender rights. In the case of We Can in South Asia or Community Discussion Classes in Nepal, building such ‘power within’ was almost an end in itself. Elsewhere, citizens went on to build ‘power with’ in the form of organization that enable poor and excluded individuals to find a strong collective voice in confronting and influencing those in power. Taking this ‘back to basics’ approach has led to some impressive progress in what are apparently the most unpropitious of circumstances (women’s rights in Pakistan, civilian protection in Eastern Congo).

The Accountability Lab: What is Accountability, Really?

Roxanne Bauer's picture
“We need clean water, education and medicines- all of these things” points out Bendu as we talk to her one oppressively hot day in West Point, a township of Monrovia, Liberia. “But we really care about corruption” she adds: “and the law- without these our other problems cannot be fixed”.
 
Citizens around the world know that these accountability problems are at the heart of development, security and equality. But often their voices are not heard and they do not have the tools to change the status quo. The Accountability Lab works with citizens like Bendu to generate innovative ideas for integrity and make people with power more responsible for the issues they face in their everyday lives. The team provides training, mentorship, networks, management support and seed funding to take these ideas from conception to reality to sustainability.

Blair Glencorse is Executive Director of the Accountability Lab. In this video he discusses the nature of accountability and provides optimism for making it a reality.
 
What is Accountability, Really?

Sanitation For All: Ignore Quality at Your Own Peril

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

The excellently named Research Institute for Compassionate Economics (R.I.C.E) recently published an equally excellently named survey – the SQUAT (Sanitation Quality, Use, Access and Trends) survey. Based on the findings of this survey conducted in five north Indian states, R.I.C.E calls for a latrine use revolution - since the bottleneck is not the non-availability of a latrine (since even those with a government latrine are not using them), nor is it lack of funds (since far poorer countries and communities have built and used latrine). It is an issue of messaging around hygiene, towards which we need to set our firm focus.

My first job in the development sector was with an NGO, Gram Vikas in Odisha and my experience there has shaped many of my core beliefs about working in this sector. At the core of Gram Vikas' work was the conviction that the 'poor can and will pay for quality services'. So when I think toilets (not latrines – and there is a key difference in the definition), I often use the 'quality' lens and make the argument about how the usage of physical facilities installed by projects has a direct link with what community perception of what counts as good quality. This also has a strong link with the extent to which they feel a sense of ownership for the facility.

What’s the Best Way to Measure Empowerment?

Duncan Green's picture

Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) used to send me into a coma, but I have to admit, I’m starting to get sucked in. After all, who doesn’t want to know more about the impact of what we do all day?

So I picked up the latest issue of Oxfam’s Gender and Development Journal (GAD), on MEL in gender rights work, with a shameful degree of interest.

Two pieces stood out. The first, a reflection on Oxfam’s attempts to measure women’s empowerment, had some headline findings that ‘women participants in the project were more likely to have the opportunity and feel able to influence affairs in their community. In contrast, none of the reviews found clear evidence of women’s increased involvement in key aspects of household decision-making.’ So changing what goes on within the household is the toughest nut to crack? Sounds about right.

But (with apologies to Oxfam colleagues), I was even more interested in an article by Jane Carter and 9 (yes, nine) co-authors, looking at 3 Swiss-funded women’s empowerment projects (Nepal, Bangladesh and Kosovo). They explored the tensions between the kinds of MEL preferred by donors (broadly, generating lots of numbers) and alternative ways to measure what has been going on.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

 

The Promise of a New Internet
The Atlantic
People tend to talk about the Internet the way they talk about democracy—optimistically, and in terms that describe how it ought to be rather than how it actually is. This idealism is what buoys much of the network neutrality debate, and yet many of what are considered to be the core issues at stake—like payment for tiered access, for instance—have already been decided. For years, Internet advocates have been asking what regulatory measures might help save the open, innovation- friendly Internet. But increasingly, another question comes up: What if there were a technical solution instead of a regulatory one? What if the core architecture of how people connect could make an end run on the centralization of services that has come to define the modern net?

Are the Oceans Failed States?
Foreign Policy
In the early hours of March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 lost contact with air traffic control just one hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur. Since then, a multinational effort has scoured the Indian Ocean floor, deploying aircraft, ships, and even a robotic submarine in search of the wreckage. Yet four months on, the jet remains lost in the least accessible and most ill- understood ecosystem on the planet. Only about 5 percent of the ocean floor has been mapped in detail. We know more about the contours of the moon and nearby planets than we do about the basins of the high seas. But however remote these depths might seem, no corner of the ocean is untouched by human activities. As a result of these impacts, much of it is now in peril. That is the conclusion of the Global Ocean Commission, which reported in late June that the planet's largest and least- protected bioregion is close to collapse.

Pages