Hivos Action Learning Community Reflection Notes

These three Reflection Notes are products of the Hivos Action Learning Community and are based on the collective experiences of its members in their work with organisations who are developing their theory of change.

Learning to use Participatory Action Research and Theory of Change together

In this blog post Boru Douthwaite comments on the challenge of programs tackling rural poverty and marginalization to effectively engage in complex systems. He goes on to describe a CGIAR-led agricultural research in development program that attempted to put critical reflection and learning at the centre of its implementation approach. Their innovation was to use participatory action research together with theory of change.

Process Oriented Theory of Change Facilitation. Surfing the Waves of Complexity

This paper explores the relationship between complexity thinking, group process facilitation, and the use of Theory of Change (ToC) from an action-learning perspective. For the purpose of this paper, Theory of Change is understood as a transformative actionthinking non-linear approach applied to complex social change processes.

#WhatWorks Blog: Using ‘Theories of Change’ in international development

Find the first blog of a series on program theories by Jos Vaessen, advisor on evaluation methods at the World Bank Independent Evaluation Group (IEG). According to him, the term theory of change is probably the most popular expression used in the international development community, whereas he prefers the term program theory as it is less contentious.

Using theories of change in the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health

The article gives a nice overview of how to use ToCs in the different stages during (the design and implementation of) projects/programmes. The article also illustrates the use of nested ToCs for the different stakeholders, and is at the same time making sure that the ToC is still simple to be interpreted.  What is interesting is that the authors differentiate between types of assumptions and their different positions within the Theory of Change.

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If using ‘Theories of Change’ cannot transform the way you operate, why bother?

This World Bank blog discusses Craig Valter's (commendably short) 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.

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Theory of Change Thinking in Practice: A stepwise approach

These Hivos Theory of Change Guidelines aim to support Hivos staff in applying a ToC approach as intended and set out in an earlier Hivos’ policy brief: ‘Hivos and Theory of Change’.

A theory of change approach can be used for different purposes, by different users, and at different moments in the cycle of developing, monitoring, reviewing or evaluating a programme or strategy. Table 1 gives an overview of the relevance of the Guideline chapters for different uses and user groups.

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QUESTION 10: Where can I find further reading, links and blogs on ToC?



Hivos' experience with ToC

The first phase of Hivos' ToC initiative ran from 2007 to 2010 and had the form of a capacity development programme with partners. In the course of this process a lot of reflection took place. A summary of the main lessons learned in that period can be found as Reflection Notes in English and Spanish.


QUESTION 9: How to facilitate a ToC process?

Facilitating a ToC process entails various elements. From our experience there are two elements we find essential: the facilitation process and ToC capacities. These cannot be separated, in the process a facilitator has to acknowledge present capacities and build new ToC capacities.


ToC process

In our experiences facilitation should start with acknowledging what is already present as ToC practice and ToC thinking capacity.


QUESTION 7: What is the critique on ToC?

In response to the growing interest in and demand for ToCs, critique is also emerging. A list of the most commonly heard critiques is presented below.


1. Too many often vague definitions

Even defining it, does not give much clarity about what it is and is not. There are so many definitions – and which is the right one? When do we know when it is good quality or not?


2. Nothing new

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