Theorising theories of change in international development: What counts as evidence?

Katarzyna Cieslik, Cees Leeuwis

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Theories of change (ToCs) are development tools that describe how a certain set up of conditions and actions leads to producing specific results. They are used to design, monitor, evaluate, and scale interventions and are increasingly required by both donor and research agencies. In this paper, we explore the links between theories of change and actual social scientific theories about change, which have not been explored in academic literature. We make three essential contributions. First, we explain how the rising interest in evidence-based policy fuelled the evolution of development management tools, including Logit Models, Log Frames and theories of change. Second, we argue that the narrow understanding of ‘research evidence’ resulted in scientific contributions being limited to conducting experimental evaluations (RCTs) meant to test and validate the projects’ theories of change. This we criticise as both methodologically unsound and epistemologically limiting. Third, we introduce alternative sources of ‘evidence’ that credit the social science theories and methods and engage meaningfully with local stakeholders (target communities and implementing staff).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Politics of Knowledge in Inclusive Development and Innovation
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Publication statusPublished - 8 Oct 2021


Dive into the research topics of 'Theorising theories of change in international development: What counts as evidence?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this