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

Dear Colleagues,

I wanted to raise one aspect that has apparently become a standard procedure when doing ToCs - many colleagues have said that they use this tool largely for programme design/implementation/evaluation.  However, literature suggest that "Theories of Change may start with a program, but are best when starting with a goal, before deciding what programmatic approaches are needed." (see AEA presentation shared in a previous post)

Thus, the starting point for ToC should ideally be development/humanitarian goals in a particular theme (poverty/hunger reduction, climate change adaptation, rural development, women empowerment, saving lives) that have been identified by key stakeholders (usually Government, since they represent us all, or humanitarian actors in their absence) for a given geographical area (country, state/region, province, district), and not the programme (or project) specific goal.

As an example of this, in a recent evaluation of FAO's contributions to the development of the food and agricultural sector in Mexico (, we used the Mexican government's theories of change to map and then evaluate FAO's contributions. The Mexican government (an OECD member) indeed had by law to develop theories of change at different thematic and geographic levels (national/state) as part of their long-term (national development plans) and medium-term (strategies and programmes) planning process, often with CONEVAL advice ( This together with the fact that FAO had planed its programme of work along the lines of the Mexican's theories of change enabled the evaluation to assess FAO's contributions against these frameworks.

I was wondering if other colleagues have experienced developign ToC having locally-agreed/owned development/humanitarian goals as starting point (and not the specific funding agency goal in mind), and whether they think this is a feasible way forward in their own countries/agencies.

Best regards,