128. Theories of Change – Time for a Radical Approach to Learning in Development

The stratospheric rise of the Theory of Change approach continues. In a paper in 2015, it is argued that taking a Theory of Change approach demands a radical shift towards more and better learning in development thinking and practice. The following principles (not rules) seek to ground Theory of Change approaches in this emerging knowledge: focus on process, prioritize learning, be locally led, and, “think compass, not map” (the idea that the process involves a “compass” and not a detailed roadmap, for helping finding a way through complex systems, discovering a path as work is done). This paper concludes stating that there is a need for modesty when considering what can be achieved. The reinvention of tools and approaches is in part a reaction to the persistent tensions in the industry; potentially helpful but not tackling the root of the problem. Perhaps, the greatest contribution of Theories of Change may well be to help carve out a small but productive space for genuine critical reflection within aid organisations. This may not sound too radical to those outside the industry, but within it, this is an important and pressing need. (Link)

Valters, C. 2015. Theories of Change – Time for a Radical Approach to Learning in Development. Overseas Development Institute (ODI), The Asia Foundation, The World Bank. 20 p.


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