Among the fundamentals of a good research program is the ability to demonstrate how the program will deliver the promise of creating positive change to the target population. Theory of Change defines the pathways through which a program will deliver these promises, highlighting the key assumptions and likely risks the program faces. The Theory of Change is an important tool for program planning, management, and measuring the program’s progress towards achieving impact on its target population.
A 2 days workshop to refine the Livestock and Fish CGIAR Research Program Theory of Change was held in January 2013 in Nairobi. The objectives of the workshop were to:
- Develop a common understanding of the program design and the envisaged pathways to outcomes and impact
- Review and refine the Livestock and Fish program impact evaluation strategy
- Clarify program monitoring & evaluation and impact assessment related activities including evaluation, impact assessment, learning, logic frameworks, impact pathways, program monitoring, outcome monitoring among others.
Defining its pathway is the first step for the program in building systematic evidence on how it will deliver the changes it promises to make, which ultimately builds to the program’s impact assessment framework. Two program impact pathways were defined by participants at workshop:
- In the first pathway, the program will work through value chains as their “technology labs”. The program will produce research outputs that will be tested in the value chains. Once technologies are tested and shown to work, it is expected that development partners will be attracted to invest in the technologies and help scale them out to achieve the program’s Intermediate Development Outcomes (IDOs) for which the program is accountable. For example, if the program aims to bring about nutrition change, the team will research on an intervention that once tested within the value chain will attack more partners to invest financial resources towards and this can then go to scale.
- The second pathway represents the more conventional process by which results are expected to translate into uptake and impact more widely. The knowledge and innovation created to find solutions to the constraints in the program’s selected value chains will apply to constraints and the scientific process more generally. This will be achieved through targeted dissemination of results through publications, etc. to provide sufficient evidence and numerous platforms for widespread dissemination (at an international scale) of the technologies. In addition the program will seek to build the capacity of technology “next users” such as national agricultural research systems (NARs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and public extension providers in countries outside of the selected value chains, and so accelerate the downstream testing and adaptation of research outputs. The program will also develop a strategy for targeting specific messages and specific channels to influence policy makers, especially those who determine development investment, to promote wider deployment of program’s proven interventions. Improving international access to and use of program outputs will eventually, over a 10-year horizon and beyond, contribute to the detailed system level changes in food security, nutrition, poverty, and sustainability of natural resources.
Existing evidence that supports the above pathways is being assessed and reviewed, while additional studies to validate the assumptions of the Theory of Change are also being planned. Value chain specific impact pathways, adapted to this generic program impact pathway, are being developed to enable the design of program evaluation framework and value chain specific evaluation frameworks.
Developing clear and logical pathways is a crucial step that will be able to inform research on what to do, when to do, how to do it, who should do it, to facilitate learning, evaluation and enable the program to demonstrate achievement of impact.
Workshop outputs and photos can be accessed from here: http://livestock-fish.wikispaces.com/TOCworkshop2013