Develop programme theory / theory of change
A programme theory explains how an intervention (a project, a programme, a policy, a strategy) is understood to contribute to a chain of results that produce the intended or actual impacts.
It can include positive impacts (which are beneficial) and negative impacts (which are detrimental). It can also show the other factors which contribute to producing impacts, such as context and other projects and programmes.
Different types of diagrams can be used to represent a programme theory. These are often referred to as logic models, as they show the overall logic of how the intervention is understood to work.
Why is it done?
Programme theory can be used to provide a conceptual framework for monitoring, for evaluation, or for an integrated monitoring and evaluation framework.
A programme theory can be a very useful way of bringing together existing evidence about a programme, and clarifying where there is agreement and disagreement about how the programme is understood to work, and where there are gaps in the evidence.
It can be used for a single evaluation, for planning cluster evaluations of different projects funded under a single program, or to bring together evidence from multiple evaluations and research.
When is it done?
A programme theory is often developed during the planning stage of a new intervention. It can also be developed during implementation and even after a programme has finished. When an evaluation is being planned, it is useful to review the programme theory and revise or elaborate it if necessary.
How is it developed?
A programme theory can be developed by programme staff, by an external evaluator, by programme designers, or collaboratively with the community.
How is it represented?
The diagrams used to represent a programme theory (usually referred to as logic models) can be drawn in different ways.
Sometimes they are shown as a series of boxes (inputs->processes->outputs->outcomes->impacts), sometimes they are shown in a table, sometimes they are shown as a series of results, with activities occurring alongside them rather than just at the start. These different types are shown as different options on this page (below).
Advice for choosing between options for representing programme theory
Consider the format that will be familiar to the people who will be using the logic model. Many development organisations expect to see a logframe.
Advice for good practice when developing, representing or using programme theory
See our guide to what might be considered inadequate, adequate and good practice.
Processes for developing a programme theory:
Ways of representing programme theory in a logic model:
A number of approaches include recommendations about how to develop a logic model as part of undertaking an evaluation:
- Learning for sustainability: Theory of change
Annotated list of resources about developing and using a theory of change.
'Develop programme theory / theory of change' is referenced in:
- Communication for Development (C4D) :
- Rainbow Framework :