Toward learning from change pathways: reviewing theory of change and its discontents
Keywords:theory of change, theory-based evaluation, logic model, impact pathway, research on evaluation, evaluation theory
The concept of Theory of Change (ToC) is well established in the evaluation literature, underpinning substantial research and practice efforts. However, its ability to facilitate learning has been increasingly critiqued. The objective of this paper is to identify, characterize, and evaluate concerns over the use of ToCs based on a review of relevant studies. Seven concerns are found: distinguishing ToCs from other evaluation approaches, conceptual vagueness, under-developed ToCs, contributing theoretical knowledge, stakeholder engagement, considering context, and capturing complexity. Priority areas for improvement include integrating context and complexity throughout the ToC process, contributing theoretical knowledge, and engaging stakeholders as appropriate.
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