Theory of change approach to climate change adaptation programming

Written by Dennis Bours, Colleen McGinn & Patrick Pringle, this paper looks at theory of change (ToC) and why it is useful for climate change adaptation programming.

The paper also provides step-by-step guidance on how to develop a ToC model and describes some strategies for avoiding common pitfalls that may occur when using it. This is the third guidance note in a series of three from the SEA Change Community of Practice and UKCIP that focus on the monitoring and evaluation of climate change adaptation projects.

Guidance Note 1: 12 reasons why climate change adaptation M&E is challenging

Guidance Note 2: Selecting indicators for climate change adaptation programming


"ToCs can and are tailored to various levels of analysis and intervention. ToCs are not solely reserved for long-term and large-scale planning. They can also be very effective for mapping out community-based and near-term endeavours as well. Indeed, an overall ‘big-picture’ ToC is usually accompanied by one or more additional ToCs that lays out a detailed strategy to achieve the near-term outcomes. For example, let us imagine that a ToC has been prepared for an integrated CCA programme for communities living along the Mekong River. One of the near-term steps might be to promote flood insurance. The Lao country programme might then design a ToC specifically focused on achieving this one outcome."


  • What is ‘Theory of Change’?
  • Why is theory of change a good fit for climate change adaptation programming?
  • How is theory of change different from logic models?
  • What are the steps in a theory of change process?
  • Pitfalls and disadvantages of theory of change approaches, and how to avoid them
  • Example: The Ecosystems Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) Theory of Change


Bours, D. McGinn, C. & Pringle, P. (2014). Theory of Change approach to climate  change adaptation programming, SEA Change Community of Practice and UKCIP. Retrieved from:

'Theory of change approach to climate change adaptation programming' is referenced in: