This practice paper from IDS captures lessons from recent experiences on using ‘theories of change’ amongst organisations involved in the research–policy interface.
The literature in this area highlights much of the complexity inherent in the policymaking process, as well as the challenges around finding meaningful ways to measure research uptake. As a tool, ‘theories of change’ offers much, but the paper argues that the very complexity and dynamism of the research-to-policy process means that any theory of change will be inadequate in this context. Therefore, rather than overcomplicating a static depiction of change at the start (to be evaluated at the end), incentives need to be in place to regularly collect evidence around the theory, test it periodically, and then reflect and reconsider its relevance and assumptions.
7 ways to make your advocacy, lobbying and policy-influencing work more visible using monitoring and evaluation
Influencing and informing policy is the main aim for many development organisations. However, activities directed at policy change are, in general, very hard to monitor and evaluate. As policy change is often a complex process, it is difficult to isolate the impact of a particular intervention from the influence of other factors and various actors. In addition, monitoring and evaluation tools usually used in managing interventions can be difficult to implement in these contexts.
Episode studies are an excellent way of investigating the influence of research on policy. Episode studies refer to a case study that focuses on a clear policy change and tracks back to assess what impact research had among the variety of issues that led to the policy change. They could be focusing on a single episode or comparative episodes. It differs from other case study approaches, which usually take an initiative as the starting point and look forward.