Many of us working in foreign aid struggle with the idea of theories of change. The ubiquitous logical framework has an implicit theory of change that we recognise to be flawed, or at the very least, extremely limited. But alternatives are thin and often poorly articulated. A new briefing from Organisation Research Services sets out some very useful ideas and illustrations which might help expand and extend our models of  how policy change happens.

As the authors put it: “understanding different theories about policy change can help organizations more effectively choose advocacy strategies, focus evaluation efforts on the right outcomes, and avoid the “kitchen sink” syndrome of doing a little bit of everything and unrealistically expecting change in all areas.” Although developed with US policy in mind, there is much of  relevant for development and humanitarian efforts here. To cite directly:

[new] theories can inform the development of advocacy theories of change and logic models. Just as academics develop theories, advocates have their own ideas about what will help them achieve or move toward a policy “win.”  These internal ideas or assumptions about policymaking, also called theories of change, can be documented as visual diagrams that express the relationships between advocacy actions and hoped-for results. When articulated, these strategy and belief system roadmaps can clarify expectations internally and externally, and facilitate more effective planning and evaluation. Knowing about and incorporating existing social science theories into our strategies can sharpen our thinking [and] provide new ways of looking at the policy world…

The table below summarises the six theories and when they might be most applicable.

Download the full briefing here.

H/T Jeff Knezovich

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Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. [...] ‘Understanding different theories about policy change can help organizations more effectively choose advocacy strategies, focus evaluation efforts on the right outcomes, and avoid the “kitchen sink” syndrome of doing a little bit of everything and unrealistically expecting change in all areas.’ Ben Ramalingam reviews a useful-looking paper on theories of policy change. [...]

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  2. Incrementalism by Charles Lindblom (discipline of political science) is also worth considering as a policy change theory. As the name implies, change happens in small increments preceding a broader policy change.

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  3. [...] Ben Ramalingam recently linked to Six Theories of Policy Change. [...]

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About Ben Ramalingam

I am a freelance consultant and writer specialising on international development and humanitarian issues. I am currently working on a number of consulting and advisory assignments for international agencies. I am also writing a book on complexity sciences and international aid which will be published by Oxford University Press. I hold Senior Research Associate and Visiting Fellow positions at the Institute of Development Studies, the Overseas Development Institute, and the London School of Economics.

Category

Campaigns, Evaluation, Knowledge and learning, Public Policy, Strategy