Contribution analysis: An approach to exploring cause and effect

This brief from the Institutional Learning and Change Initiative (ILAC) explores contribution analysis and how it can be used to provide credible assessments of cause and effect.

"A key question in the assessment of programmes and projects is that of attribution: to what extent are observed results due to programme activities rather than other factors? What we want to know is whether or not the programme has made a difference—whether or not it has added value. Experimental or quasi-experimental designs that might answer these questions are often not feasible or not practical. In such cases, contribution analysis can help managers come to reasonably robust conclusions about the contribution being made by programmes to observed results." (Mayne, 2008)


  • Conducting a contribution analysis
  • Step 1: Set out the attribution problem to be addressed
  • Box 1. Contribution Analysis
  • Step 2: Develop the theory of change and the risks to it
  • Figure 1. A Theory of Change for Enhancing Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (PM&E) Capacity in Agricultural Research Organisations (AROs)
  • Step 3: Gather existing evidence on the theory of change
  • Step 4: Assemble and assess the contribution story, and challenges to it
  • Step 5: Seek out additional evidence
  • Step 6: Revise and strengthen the contribution story
  • Levels of contribution analysis
  • Box 2. Contribution Analysis in Evaluating Capacity Development in Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation
  • Recent briefs


Mayne, J. The Institutional Learning and Change (ILAC) Initiative, (2008). Contribution analysis: An approach to exploring cause and effect.

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