Putting Theory of Change into Use in Complex Settings


  • Boru Douthwaite Boru-Consult
  • Farid Ahmad
  • Ghulam-Muhammad Shah




Accountability, learning, results-based management, participation, impact pathways, adaptive management


This paper argues that theory of change can be used to help stakeholders in agricultural research for development projects collectively agree on problems and visions of success. This helps them feel greater ownership for their project, motivation to achieve outcomes, and understanding of how to do so. However, the dynamic is damaged if projects are pushed to be too specific too early about the outcomes for which they are to be held accountable. This is most likely to happen when system response to project intervention is uncertain, as opposed to projects that work with existing pathways and partnerships where the role of research is well established.

Author Biographies

Boru Douthwaite, Boru-Consult

Boru Douthwaite is an independent researcher and evaluator based in Ireland and former principal scientist and impact and innovation director in the CGIAR

Farid Ahmad

Farid Ahmad is head of the Strategic Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation Unit at ICIMOD in Nepal

Ghulam-Muhammad Shah

Ghulam-Muhammad Shah is an impact, monitoring and evaluation specialist at ICIMOD in Nepal