Program Theory of Change

Central to the purpose of our program Theory of Change, we aim to understand how research contributes to change in order to make research more effective in complex socio-ecological systems. Thus, our program activities and resulting research contributions aim to influence and enhance how academics and practitioners conceptualize and conduct effective research.

The following three activities drive our work:

  • exploration of the underlying theories of social change that lead research to be effective;
  • development of concepts that comprise an analytical framework that characterizes effective research design and implementation; and
  • collaboration with researchers using a theory-based approach to support their learning by assessing completed research projects. These cases constitute the basis of our comparative analyses to generate lessons about what makes research effective, and iteratively refines our assessment tools and methods.

We intend for our refined tools and methods to facilitate more effective research planning and assessment within the wider research community. Through traditional academic channels, we expect that other researchers will build on these ideas and subsequently pursue new questions to advance the research effectiveness agenda. By using a participatory approach for outcome evaluations, our work prompts researchers to reflect on what does and does not work effectively in their research projects to facilitate better informed adaptations of research practices. Our overarching purpose is for research to become more effective through improved design, implementation, and adaptive management to ultimately maximize research contributions to positive social, environmental, and economic change.

Learn more about Theory of Change from our website (see Additional Resources) or on Wikipedia. Other useful sources on Theory of Change can be found on the td-net Toolbox,, and Better Evaluation.