Getting ideas off the ground is challenging. None more so than when delivering an innovative service, implementing complex international development projects, or creating a successful social enterprise.
A new book ‘Strategic Thinking, Design and the Theory of Change’, featuring a chapter by Itad evaluators, provides insights into how theories of change can be effectively used for a wide range of social interventions.
Each chapter highlights the potential of theories of change to support strategy and strategic thinking – and nudge towards a more sustainable, inclusive and equitable society.
Using theory of change to guide research and innovation for development impact
Chapter 10 draws on insights from an Itad-led evaluation of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) – a large and complex fund that supported cutting-edge research and innovation to address challenges faced by developing countries. GCRF was a major UK government investment in development research and a significant overseas development assistance commitment.
The Chapter’s authors, Isabel Vogel (Itad associate and team leader of the GCRF evaluation) and Chris Barnett (Itad Partner) illustrate how theories of change can provide a valuable strategic guide through the complexity of pathways towards change. They highlight the potential of an ‘archetype’ theory of change to help designers of research and innovation programmes similar to the GCRF.
Chris Barnett, Itad Partner, said:
“The way in which research contributes to transformational change is often through long, complex and uncertain pathways. If used strategically, theories of change can provide a useful tool to help teams to design, reflect and iterate how they engage other actors as well as how to best position their research for impact”.
Drawing on their experience, the authors recommend:
- Using the proposed archetype theory of change to help research teams think through how best to navigate complexity and position their research for use.
- Developing a way of working that is iterative and reflective, using the archetype theory of change – and suggested tools – to regularly ask strategic questions about the research process and its context.
- Embedding the theory of change into strategic and management processes, such as review and planning cycles as well as broader, organisational learning processes.