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Overseas Development Institute

Four principles for Theories of Change in global development

Craig Valters's picture

The stratospheric rise of the Theory of Change approach continues. In a new paper published on September 15, 2015, I argue that taking a Theory of Change approach demands a radical shift towards more and better learning in development thinking and practice.

Local farmers attend a workshop on ecology and social organization in Vila Da Canoas, in the Amazon region of Brazil near ManausHang on, do we know what a Theory of Change approach actually is?

At a workshop at ODI in April 2015, we sought to work out how different people were using the term, for what purpose, and with what effects. More detail on that can be found here and here. What’s emerged is that the term ‘Theory of Change’ is being used in at least three overlapping ways:

As a discourse, asking ‘what’s your Theory of Change?’ has become an increasingly fashionable way interrogate someone’s assumptions about change (and flummox newcomers to the terminology).

As a tool, it’s rapidly rivalling (and being used in conjunction with) the log frame. Here it’s often used as a way of making explicit the assumptions connecting (watch out, here comes aid jargon) activities, outputs and outcomes in reporting for donors.

Taking a Theory of Change approach will likely include use of a tool in some form, but is broader, reflecting a desire to embed a critical and adaptive approach in organisational practice. This is perhaps the most exciting, as it builds in what we know about how aid organisations can make effective contributions to social change in complex environments.

So where do we go from here?

The following principles (not rules) seek to ground Theory of Change approaches in this emerging knowledge – and are rooted in a concern with persistently damaging problems within the industry.

However, the aim is to not to be prescriptive: debate them, critique them, and develop your own!

Weekly wire: The global forum

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

Projecting progress: Reaching the SDGs by 2030
Overseas Development Institute
This month the United Nations launches the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a global plan to spur action across the world on areas of critical importance to humanity. With 17 goals and 169 targets, the SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which end this year. The SDGs will significantly shape development efforts for the coming 15 years. But are they really achievable? And what can we do to improve our chances of success? Our SDG Scorecard 2030 is the first real attempt to project where the world will be in 2030 across the SDG agenda.

The Politics of Media Development: The Importance of Engaging Government and Civil Society
Center for International Media Assistance
In the field of media development, the public sector is often viewed as a barrier to the development of independent and sustainable media. Although governments do frequently pervert and capture media sectors in countries around the globe, the enabling conditions under which media can achieve and maintain independence are nevertheless reliant on institutions of government. Therefore the media development community must rethink its approaches to public sector engagement in efforts to improve the environment for media systems in emerging and fragile democracies. This paper outlines the key role of political support, the need for more nuanced understanding of political context, and how donors and implementers can more effectively engage drivers of change in the public sector to build support for media and media development work.

The Challege of Doing Development Differently

Suvojit Chattopadhyay's picture

The Doing Development Differently workshop was organised by the Building State Capacity gang at Harvard’s Center for International Development and the Overseas Development Institute; read more about the workshop here. I was unfortunately able to only attend Day 1 and a tiny bit on Day 2 but caught up through all the videos that are online. See Day 1 summary; and Day 2 summary
Here are some thoughts:

  1. Doing Development Differently (DDD) is the big picture: DDD is about the details and the beauty of innovation and creativity on the ground, but, more importantly, it is about the big picture. As the workshop signalled (at least) to me, the battleground for DDD conspirators/crusaders is the top table, with donors and policymakers, the moneybags, decision-makers and influencers. Expressed in an extremely clichéd way, the goal ought to be to facilitate ‘d’ on the ground by changing the rules of the ‘D’ game. This makes sense to me. Gathering and influencing activists and local champions is a necessary but not sufficient condition for real change. At the same time, this workshop definitely missed a trick by not having participants from governments (I am sure the organizers considered this long and hard), which in many middle- income countries have come to be all of the above actors – the moneybags, the policy/decision-makers, etc. For DDD thinking to go beyond just aid, it is important that governments are included in these conversations.

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

International development according to Hollywood
“International development is just about at the bottom of the list of things that the average American thinks about each day.
Foreign bureaus are closing for major US news sources. One of the big television networks turned down more money for global health reporting after a series, entirely funded by grants, led to a dip in viewers. In other words ratings were so bad that the network turned down millions of dollars. It is that tough.
Aside from advocacy efforts like Kony 2012 and Oxfam advertisements, how are people learning about the world around them if they are not reading the news? The answer could be Hollywood.”  READ MORE

Research Is Not An End In Itself

Naniette Coleman's picture

In the world of development, research is not enough; a free and protected media is not enough; policy is not enough; but together, the combination can be unstoppable, when communicated well. Communication is the key. Disparate pieces floating in a vacuum cannot garner the type of result that is possible when they are combined and communicated as a whole, properly.