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ESPA guide to working with Theory of Change for research projects
by Isabel Vogel
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This guide was written for Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) research projects. Its purpose is to support Principal Investigators and research teams who wish to work with a theory of change approach when developing their pathways to impact and impact strategies. It may also be of use to other research programmes with a similar approach to ESPA. ESPA researchers need to achieve academic excellence and support development impact through their research. ESPA researchers face the additional question of how to define, plan for and track the impact of their research on the development context (ESPA 2012).

Theory of change is being used by some research funders as an approach to develop more detailed ‘pathways to impact’ for research projects. Theory of change can help to strengthen the  planning, implementation and evaluation of impact strategies for an impact-oriented research project. For ESPA and other research programmes, theory of change helps research teams to map out the anticipated links between their research project, the issues and context they are seeking to influence, and the longer-term social, development and environmental outcomes that are the purpose of the overall  ESPA programme.

The guide is divided into three sections. Sections A and B offer a tailored approach for ESPA research teams. Sections C and D present practical tips and resources for those wishing to learn more about theory of change.


  1. Theory of Change and research projects
  2. Developing theories of change for research projects
  3. Practical approaches to developing a Theory of Change
  4. Tools, resources and sources