Andrew Koleros | American Journal of Evaluation – Oct 23 2018How to Design Better Programmes in Complex SystemsIN-DEPTH Share
A programme theory (or a ‘theory of change’) is a key tool used to inform the design and delivery of development programmes. A programme theory outlines the steps in a pathway, from intervention to impact, and explicitly identifies the key risks and assumptions along that pathway. This helps ensure that a programme is designed from a strong evidence base and adapted for a particular context. Developing a programme theory is now accepted as good practice in the design of any development intervention, and is often required by programme funders and commissioners.
But developing programme theories has become more complex in recent years. First, programmes themselves have become more complex and multi-faceted, comprising multiple interventions in multiple locations, and targeting multiple stakeholder groups. In addition, programmes are trying to catalyse change in complex settings and environments, where a diverse range of factors, both within and outside of the programmes’ control, is at play. A vacillating political landscape, unpredictable weather conditions and a changing security situation, for example, can all affect a programme’s ability to achieve results.
As complex programmes in complex settings become more common, it is increasingly important for programme designers to begin addressing some of this complexity in how they develop programme theory. So how can this be achieved in practice?
We propose three ways through which to better unpack some of this complexity in programme theory. We’ve codified our experience across a number of programmes and evaluations into a new approach called the Actor-Based Change (ABC) Framework, which is described in detail in a paper published in the American Journal of Evaluation.
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