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Practical approaches to Theories of Change in conflict, security, and justice programmes: Using Theories of Change in monitoring and evaluation
by Vanessa Corlazzoli & Jonathan White (Search for Common Ground)
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This is a two-part series on practical approaches to theories of change in conflict, security and justice programmes.

Part I first explores the fundamentals of theories of change: what they are, why they are important, and how to create a theory of change. It explores theories of change at different levels, and concludes with advice on how theories of change can enhance the effectiveness and relevance of programming.

Part II continues to build upon Part I by focusing on how theories of change can be used in the monitoring and evaluation stages of the project cycle. It provides practical guidance on how and why to use theories of change-focused monitoring and evaluation strategies, particularly exploring the ways in which theories of change can be included in any evaluation approach.

Key questions this document addresses

  • Why are Theories of Change important in evaluating programmes and projects?
  • How can Theories of Change be used in Monitoring and Evaluation?
  • How can Theories of Change be used to generate programme and project indicators?
  • What are the limitations of Theories of Change and how can they be overcome?

Key messages/essential “take aways”

  • Using theories of change during the monitoring stage of project implementation provides feedback on whether a project, programme or strategy is ‘on track’ to accomplish the desired change and if the environment is evolving as anticipated in the project or programme design.
  • The power of using theories of change is not only important in monitoring but also in evaluation. Using theories of change during the evaluation enables evaluators to ask hard questions about why certain changes are expected, the assumptions of how the change process unfolds, and which outcomes are being selected to focus on and why.
  • Developing and explicitly articulating multiple levels of theories of change allows for a greater efficiency in evaluation and identifying problems and successes.
  • The process of monitoring our assumptions and theories of change is the same as traditional monitoring of output and performance indicators: it involves an iterative cycle of regular data collection, analysis, reflection, feedback and action. The only thing that changes is what you are monitoring.
  • Theory-based Evaluation helps assess whether underlying theories of change or assumptions of a programme are correct by identifying the causal linkages between different variables: from inputs to expected results. In a broad definition, any evaluation uncovering implicit or explicit assumptions, hypotheses or theories can be categorized as theory-based evaluation. This approach is particularly useful for learning and accountability as it allows for identifying whether the success, failure or mixed results of the intervention was due to programme theories and assumptions, or implementation.
  • Theories of change are not a solve-all panacea for challenges in design, monitoring and evaluation for conflict, crime and violence initiatives: they must be used in conjunction with other tools and concepts.
  • Theories of change are more than simple ‘if-then’ statements. As testable hypotheses, we need theories of change to be as reflective of the actual environment as possible without overly complicating the situation. Clearly defining the boundaries of the theory and its assumptions is critical.