Making causal claims

This brief, authored by John Mayne for the Institutional Learning and Change (ILAC) Initiative argues the need for a different perspective on causality. That one can still speak of the intervention making a difference in the sense that the intervention was a necessary element of a package of causal factors that together were sufficient to bring about the results.

The brief further argues that theories of change are models showing how an intervention operates as a contributory cause. Using theories of change, approaches such as contribution analysis can be used to demonstrate that the intervention made a difference – that it was a contributory cause – and to explain how and why.


  • Concepts of causality
  • Fish farming as an example of a causal package
  • Demonstrating contributory causes
  • Theories of change incorporate causal packages
  • Approaches to demonstrating causality
  • Theory of change approaches to showing a contributory cause


This resource was suggested to BetterEvaluation by Ronald Mackay.


Mayne, J. 2012. Making causal claims, ILAC Brief No. 26. Rome: Institutional Learning and Change (ILAC) Initiative.

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