RE: How useful are theories of change in development programmes and projects? | Eval Forward

Dear Carlos and Dear members,

Thank you to receive my modest contribution.

What is your experience with the use of theories of change?

I have just done 1 year at FAO as a monitoring and evaluation officer under the GAFSP Missing Middle Initiative program. I have learned many things at you@FAO in the training of M&E guideline FAO. I think FAO has a solid experience in evaluation with many practical cases. if I'm not wrong the ToC is not a very popular tool.

In my previous experiences as a follow-up and evaluation officer, we used TOC for a smart project or program communication but also to share the project's intervention logic with stakeholders (partners, beneficiaries, etc.) in order to receive to promote the critical review focused on the key points of the project. It is a tool requested by several donors with different formats not far away, in the form of a diagram or table that always respects the same logic in the short term for direct results, medium term for effects and long term for impacts. The expected purpose would be to develop a resulting sentence i.e. the theory that in a simple text explains the project or program in complexity

What are the main added value of these theories, from your own perspective?

At FAO, I discovered in the project documents, the focus was more on the logical frameworks and results frameworks, which are also as relevant tools as the ToC but very complex for communication. ToC can be a tool that encompasses these other two tools while allowing a reading on the logic of intervention and the relevance of the activities or actions to be carried out. ToC traces the response from problems to resolutions. If it is a program the ToC is the best tool to define a vision but also to plan a participatory scaling up.

As part of GAFSP MMI Senegal, I had taken the initiative by drawing inspiration from GAFSP MMI's Global ToC to define a project-specific ToC that aligns with this global program while registering with PNUAD (National program of UN for development) and CPP 2019-2023. in the form of a table, the tool had facilitated the reading of the intervention and we also led to a revision of the logical framework with the integration of new results that take into account the gender dimension. shared with the partners, in a single sentence, we harmonized our understanding of the project's intervention logic. this tool had also led to the development of a M&E guideline that takes into account all the project's outcome dimensions

Have theories-of-change in your view made a difference in the programmes and projects that you have evaluated, especially when compared to other planning tools like log-frames and result chains?

Toc is a strategic tool for project or program evaluations. beyond the results defined in the logical or outcome framework, in an evaluation, the ToC allows contributions to be defined to macro indicators referring to broader policies or programs that include intervention. with Toc, we have often identified factors for successful intervention beyond the expected outcomes in relation to the baseline situation in the area of intervention. it is a tool that in an evaluation allows to see the cross-cutting themes and the chain justifying the contribution of the project

In my humble opinion, I think FAO needs to define a zero hunger change theory ( if not existing). This theory will draw inspiration from the representations to define the theories of their country programs and finally from these country program theories will draw inspiration from the theories of change specific to each project in the representation. This work will help to improve the logic of intervention and greatly facilitate evaluations at all levels. Like FPMIS for budget monitoring, such a portal could be developed to track changes.  All programs and projects can be included in this portal with an alignment of expected results and expected changes to the changes that define zero hunger in its globality.