Theories of Change, the muddy middle, and what to do about assumptions

May 10, 2022
Spent a happy 90 minutes last week connecting with a bunch of Oxfam campaigners taking part in its excellent Campaigns and Advocacy Leadership Programme. They had asked to discuss something which already feels a bit last decade – Theories of Change (ToCs). My random thoughts (powerpoint below) were cautiously worded, because I have a growing fear that in becoming a
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Right now, it feels like anything can derail everything, so are theories of change still useful?

January 27, 2021
Guest post from Oxfam’s Thomas Dunmore-Rodriguez Applying a theory of change approach is hard, and in the current context just got a whole lot harder. Theories of change tend to be abstract, intangible, and largely hypothetical, so given the unpredictability of the COVID-affected world, are they still useful for activists seeking to strategize for positive social change? Recently a group

Is there a new Washington Consensus? An analysis of five World Development Reports.

November 3, 2017
Alice Evans earns my undying admiration (and ubergeek status) by casually revealing that she has read the last 5 WDRs on the day of their publication. Here she summarizes what they show about the Bank’s evolving view of the world. A new Washington Consensus is emerging… It recognises complexity, context, learning by doing, politics, and ideas. Hitherto fringe perspectives have

‘I don’t need a Plan, I need a better Radar’ – how can we rethink Strategic Planning?

May 26, 2017
I was in Washington this week helping the International Budget Partnership think about its future direction. There’s a certain rhythm to these exercises – some research on external trends, consultation with partners and staff, maybe bring in some outside facilitators, then sit down and say ‘so what should we be doing differently?’ These days, there is often an initial session on

What do we know about when data does/doesn’t influence policy?

March 8, 2017
Josh Powell, Chief Strategy Officer at the Development Gateway weighs in on the Data and Development debate While development actors are now creating more data than ever, examples of impactful use are anecdotal and scant. Put bluntly, despite this supply-side push for more data, we are far from realizing an evidence-based utopia filled with data-driven decisions. One of the key

How Change Happens (or doesn’t) in the Humanitarian System

February 15, 2017
I’ve been in Stockholm this week at the invitation of ALNAP, the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action, which has been holding its annual meeting on the banks of a frozen Swedish river. I was asked to comment on the background paper for the meeting, Changing Humanitarian Action?, by ALNAP’s Paul Knox-Clarke.  I read the paper

What determines whether/how an organization can learn? Interesting discussion at DFID.

February 9, 2017
I was invited along to DFID last week for a discussion on how organizations learn. There was an impressive turnout of senior civil serpents – the issue has clearly got their attention. Which is great because I came away with the impression that they (and Oxfam for that matter) have a long way to go to really become a ‘learning

On theories of change, what are the differences between playing offence and defence?

December 13, 2016
Unsurprisingly, in this year of Brexit and US elections, I’ve been thinking about how to stop bad stuff happening. While they are doubtless desperately looking for silver linings in a year of defeats, progressive movements are likely to spend a good part of the next few years defending good things from political assault. So what is the same/different about defence

How do we choose the most promising theory of change? Building on the context-intervention 2×2

December 9, 2016
One of the slides from my standard HCH presentation that resonated most during the many conversations and book launches in the US was the 2×2 on which kinds of interventions are compatible with different contexts. I first blogged about this a year ago, when the 2×2 emerged during a workshop of aid wonks, but the recent discussions have added some

Please comment on this draft paper: theories of change on empowerment and accountability in fragile states

August 23, 2016
Ouch. My brain hurts. I’ve spent the last month walled up at home writing a paper on ‘Theories of change on empowerment and accountability in fragile and conflict-affected states’ (acronym heaven – ToCs on E&A in FCAS). Pulse racing yet? It’s one of a series of inception papers for a big research consortium on E&A in FCAS, which Oxfam is

I need your help: Theories of Change for promoting Empowerment/Accountability in Fragile States

July 27, 2016
I love the summer lull. Everyone heads off for holidays, there are no meetings, so I can get my head down and write. Last year, it was wrestling How Change Happens to the finishing line. This year is less cosmic, but still interesting, and I need your help. Subject: Theories of change for Empowerment and Accountability (E&A) programming in Fragile and

Book Review: Gender at Work: Theory and Practice for 21st Century Organizations

April 6, 2016
Gender at Work: Theory and Practice for 21st Century Organizations by Rao, Sandler, Kelleher and Miller, Routledge, 2016 This was another book that came to my rescue as I was struggling towards the finishing line on How Change Happens. In particular, it pulled together thinking about different kinds of power and change in a practical format for activists. The book