Citizen Voice and State Accountability: Towards Theories of Change that Embrace Contextual Dynamics

Fletcher Tembo


This paper argues that current approaches to Theories of Change (ToCs) are inadequate for citizen voice and accountability (CV&A) interventions: linear ToCs do not capture the complex and dynamic realities of state-citizen relations and of the influences of the wider context on these interactions. It suggests a model for developing ToCs that are better grounded in dynamic socioeconomic and political contexts. The model, which blends outcome mapping and political economy analysis, can facilitate an ongoing process of analysis, intervention and learning. ToCs need to be subjected to a continuous process of construction and deconstruction to improve knowledge of what works and what does not, and in what circumstances.

There is growing interest in going beyond the measurement of results to being able to understand the basis for the success or failure of development interventions. The formation of explicit ToCs is starting to be viewed as central to this process, as a key part of what constitutes ‘rigour’ in impact evaluations. A ToC is a conceptual map showing how programme or project teams think they can get from where things are to their desired end. Developing explicit ToCs from the start of programme planning helps planners delve into complex citizen–state dynamics.

The pathway of change that enables citizens to hold their governments to account depends on the availability of specific mechanisms, spaces and incentives. Therefore, the interlocution process – a way to make this work for poor people – focuses on how to build engagement through finding appropriate incentives for CV&A within relevant platforms and spaces.

This paper outlines an analytical framework for developing ToCs for CV&A projects that was created based on CV&A cases from the Mwananchi Governance and Transparency Fund (GTF) programme in Uganda. The framework involves using political economy analysis for iterative context analysis and outcome mapping to map realistic outcomes. It consists of five stages of analysis to help identify and understand the ‘game-changers’ and how their context-dependent behaviour could be influenced in order to make the desired CV&A change happen:

  • Step 1 – Analysis of national and sub-regional contextual dynamics: This examines foundational governance factors and the rules in use (such as the constitution and how it shapes relations, and citizens’ confidence in government decision-making).
  • Step 2 – Identification of stakeholders’ narratives of change specific to the governance issue in question: This describes local organisations’ and citizens’ stories of how outcomes come about in that context.
  • Step 3 – Identification of ‘game changers’ / ‘interlocutors’: This involves using the narratives to identify those actors/organisations with the potential to be active game changers on a specific governance issue – not just those working in that particular field/sector.
  • Step 4 – Exploring engagement dynamics: This involves mapping out the behaviour of interlocutors who might influence strategic actors to change the rules of the game in relation to a particular policy or sector. What interlocutor behaviours (relationships and activities) are expected to be in place for desired outcomes to be achieved?
  • Step 5 – Observing and analysing institutional patterns and decision logics over time: This involves examining the behaviour of the interlocutors to establish which institutional patterns are effective and which are not, in order to uncover relevant institutional and individual decision-making processes and patterns. The results of this analysis need to be reviewed in the light of the foundational governance factors identified in step 1.

Based on this ongoing analysis of contextual dynamics and informed by OM, a project results framework could be developed. This would include:

  • Strategies (creating interface mechanisms; supporting game-changing; providing incentives; creating enabling environments)
  • Behaviours (of strategic state and non-state actors)
  • Intermediate CV&A changes in policies and practice
  • Goal/impact-level changes.

NB: A more detailed Working Paper is also available.


Tembo, F., 2012, 'Citizen Voice and State Accountability: Towards Theories of Change that Embrace Contextual Dynamics', Project Briefing No. 73, Overseas Development Institute, London