Helping organisations and projects to achieve tangible and lasting environmental and sustainable development impacts


Theory of Change outlineAround the world, the need for effective and efficient approaches and actions towards achieving environmental conservation and sustainable development is increasing, while financing to deliver them becomes ever more constrained, and competition for this financing grows. To survive and prosper in this challenging environment, organisations increasingly need to demonstrate how and how much they are having a tangible impact on the key environment and development issues of our time, and that their goals are not simply good intentions, but are backed up by clearly defined programmes and projects oriented towards achieving impacts, and through which the progress towards impacts can be measured.

Results-based management (RBM) is an approach towards systematising an organisation’s planning, implementation, monitoring and reporting arrangements aimed at ensuring that the organisation is clearly focussed on the major impacts it is trying to achieve, is appropriately organised towards delivering these impacts, and can be held accountable both internally and externally for its progress towards impacts. Theory of Change (ToC) approaches complement results-based management, by providing a framework for developing clearly structured programmes and projects that are leading towards impacts. In this way, RBM and ToC are complementary and interdependent – with ToC approaches providing the skeleton, and RBM putting meat on the bones.

Theories of Change are nothing new, and are not even especially challenging. A recipe for a cake is after all a type of ToC, with the cake being the outcome of the process, while the outputs are the cake mixture and the icing, and the activities are the mixing of ingredients and the baking. And finally the impact is a satisfied consumer, assuming the ToC was a good one!

Our contribution

ToC planning in Seychelles

CDC first got involved in developing and promoting Theory of Change approaches in 2006, when we started working with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Evaluation Office (EO) in developing ToC approaches to understanding the environmental impacts of the GEF’s biodiversity project portfolio. Based on this experience, the GEF subsequently enlisted CDC to develop specific methodologies and guidelines for undertaking impact assessments based on ToC principles, which led to the development of the GEF’s Review of Outcomes to Impacts (ROtI) Handbook, produced jointly by the GEF EO and CDC. The ROtI Handbook was subsequently used as a foundation for conducting the GEF 4th Overall Performance Study (OPS), which primarily focussed on measuring impacts. Subsequently, the CDC CEO taught two courses on the use of ToC approaches to understanding the impacts of environmental and sustainable development initiatives at the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET), together with a GEF EO staff member.

CDC has recently had the opportunity to assist several other organisations in the development of ToC and RBM approaches. These include the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), where CDC has been working with the UNEP Sub-Programmes to develop their Theories of Change as part of the fulfilment of the UNEP Medium Term Strategy and Programmes of Work, and the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), which CDC has been assisting in developing ToC and RBM as a crucial part of their fulfilment of donor-funding requirements. We have also worked with a number of other organisations in integrating Theories of Change as part of their project design as well as evaluation approaches.


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