RE: Can we use an evidence-based, evolving Theory of Change to achieve "local learning” during project design? | Eval Forward

Dear all,

Let me close this discussion topic with some reflections on: What have we learned? What should we learn next?

Two things we have learned are:

1. Large-scale projects can be customized to local desires and capabilities. CGIAR does this, to ensure that farmers adopt their agricultural research.

2. An evolving ToC can be done with hardly any money or skill. (See attachment.) This allows locals to be full partners in a village-level development project. 

Three things to learn next:

1. Donors can offer contracts that do not specify actions, outcomes, or indicators of success. (See Grandori et al. and Reuer.) That would remove a major obstacle for local learning. Businesses do this when contracting for innovation, because the actions and desired outcomes aren’t known when the contract is signed.

2. Nested ToCs let you zoom in to see more detail, like internet maps. Close-up ToCs feature a specific village, product market, or social group. They evolve rapidly during the start of a project (every week or two, not every 6 months or a year). Zoom out to see a ToC with less detail (actors are categories rather than named groups). This categorical ToC can become a first guess ToC for a new project (e.g., Figure 2, page 5 in the Community-driven development evaluation by IFAD).

3. An evolving ToC gets revised when evidence strongly disproves one step in the chain of cause-and-effect, or it is confirmed when evidence strongly validates the step. That evidentiary proof delivers the accountability that donors require.

Thank you all for your contributions. Please feel free to email me with additional thoughts.

John Hoven