This World Bank blog builds on Craig Valter’s paper on “Theories of Change: time for a radical approach to learning in development”. Suvojit Chattopadhyay describes the paper as Valters’ advocacy for ‘modest radicalism’ in the use of Theories of Change (ToC) as an approach to improving reflection and learning in the development sector:

“In this paper, Craig reflects on the role of the ToC in the context of the ‘results agenda’ and suggests four principles that could help development organisations develop knowledge and improve practice: Focus on processes; Prioritise learning; Be locally-led; and ‘Think compass, not map’.”

In this post/blog, Chattopadhyay shares additional thoughts on the use of ToCs and how they might be improved. He starts with two problems in the way we do things:

  • In development, failures are hard to detect: Often, organisations that fail find ways to mask failure – by either refusing to acknowledge failure, finding external factors, or moving on to a different desk officer/donor/location. So within the aid industry, we have a peculiar situation where it is real hard to fail – or at least, it is hard to know when a project has failed.
  • It’s harder still to ensure that projects that fail face significant consequences of failure: Organisations that implemented the failed projects should be required to make significant changes to key aspects of design or management.