Practical Approaches to Theories of Change in Conflict, Security, and Justice Programmes: Part II: Using Theories of Change in Monitoring and Evaluation

Vanessa Corlazzoli, Jonathan White


The goal of this document is to improve the effectiveness of DFID programmes and the measurement of their impacts by providing DFID Advisers with the practical skills to develop high quality theories of change, to understand the role they play in programme design and assessment. It is intended for DFID advisors to more clearly and explicitly articulate their theories of change as a means of improving the effectiveness of interventions.

Part I explored the fundamentals of theories of change. This Part II builds upon that by focusing on how theories of change can be used in the monitoring and evaluation stages of the project cycle. It provides practical guidance on how and why to use theories of change-focused monitoring and evaluation strategies, particularly exploring the ways in which theories of change can be included in any evaluation approach.

Key Findings:

  • Using theories of change during the monitoring stage of project implementation provides feedback on whether a project, programme or strategy is ‘on track’ to accomplish the desired change and if the environment is evolving as anticipated in the project or programme design.
  • The power of using theories of change is not only important in monitoring but also in evaluation. Using theories of change during the evaluation enables evaluators to ask hard questions about why certain changes are expected, the assumptions of how the change process unfolds, and which outcomes are being selected to focus on and why.
  • Developing and explicitly articulating multiple levels of theories of change allows for a greater efficiency in evaluation and identifying problems and successes.
  • The process of monitoring our assumptions and theories of change is the same as traditional monitoring of output and performance indicators: it involves an iterative cycle of regular data collection, analysis, reflection, feedback and action. The only thing that changes is what you are monitoring.
  • Theory-based Evaluation helps assess whether underlying theories of change or assumptions of a programme are correct by identifying the causal linkages between different variables: from inputs to expected results. In a broad definition, any evaluation uncovering implicit or explicit assumptions, hypotheses or theories can be categorised as theory-based evaluation. This approach is particularly useful for learning and accountability as it allows for identifying whether the success, failure or mixed results of the intervention was due to programme theories and assumptions, or implementation.
  • Theories of change are not a solve-all panacea for challenges in design, monitoring and evaluation for conflict, crime and violence initiatives: they must be used in conjunction with other tools and concepts.
  • Theories of change are more than simple ‘if-then’ statements. As testable hypotheses, we need theories of change to be as reflective of the actual environment as possible without overly complicating the situation. Clearly defining the boundaries of the theory and its assumptions is critical.


Corlazzoli, V. & White, J. (2013a). Practical Approaches to Theories of Change in Conflict, Security, and Justice Programmes: Part II: Using Theories of Change in Monitoring and Evaluation. London: DFID and Search for Common Ground.