Theories of change in anti-corruption work: A tool for programme design and evaluation

Jesper Johnsøn


The paper presents a user-friendly five-step methodology for building a theory of change for an anti-corruption programme or project. It highlights the importance of preconditions, factors that must be in place for the intervention to work as intended, distinguishing between those preconditions that can be addressed by the programme design and those that cannot. Finally, the paper provides general and sector-specific guidance based on case studies of programmes in three areas: anti-corruption authorities, civil society work, and public sector reforms. Adding complexity as well as realism, the theory of change methodology is a valuable tool for designing, implementing, and evaluating anti-corruption reforms.

Governments and donor agencies are under increasing pressure to show hard evidence that their interventions are effective and good value for money. Anti-corruption is a challenging field in this regard, with few evidence-based models to draw upon, so both the design and the evaluation of programmes need to be supported by good analytical frameworks. The theory of change (ToC) approach focuses on how and why an initiative works. Constructing a ToC enables government and donor staff to identify the logic underpinning their programmes and clarify how interventions are expected to lead to the intended results.

This report explores the principles behind good ToCs, the pitfalls and weaknesses of current ToCs in the anti-corruption sector, and the diversity of ToCs within this sector. It is intended for policy makers and practitioners involved in anti-corruption work. Policy makers can get inspiration from existing ToCs and identify preconditions for policy success. Programme managers will benefit from being able to explain the intervention logic behind their work to colleagues, stakeholders, and funders. Donor representatives and other funders can use ToCs to guide their spending decisions and to select partners who are operating with the desired intervention logic. Evaluators benefit from having relevant ToCs that reveal the assumptions that underpin anti-corruption efforts, and ToCs can also guide development of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) plans.

Key Findings:

The five steps to building a theory of change are:

    • Step 1. Preparatory analysis
    • Step 2. Backward mapping of results chain
    • Step 3. Reality check
    • Step 4. Build the theory of change
    • Step 5. Validate the theory of change and offer recommendations for programme (re)design

A good ToC has:

    • A strong focus is placed on behavioural change
    • Consideration is given to the sequencing, complementarity, and prioritisation of reforms, leading to realistic expectations
    • The focus moves away from technocratic and apolitical results chains
    • New entry points for programmes and strategies are identified


Johnsøn, J. (2012). Theories of change in anti-corruption work: A tool for programme design and evaluation. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre. Chr. Michelsen Institute (CMI).