Do theories of change enable innovation platforms and partnerships to navigate towards impact?
This working paper (PDF) by the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT) examines how theories of change (ToCs) enabled practitioners to navigate towards impact in settings characterized by a multiplicity of views on issues of joint concern. ToCs are increasingly used to articulate pathways for interventions and to support learning. This responds to the recognition of the complexity of agricultural development challenges and the non-linear process of achieving innovative and sustainable solutions. Two cases discuss how intervention programs test the ToCs. In the first case MAIZE, based on the experiences of the CGIAR Research Program, innovation platforms are essential for directing technology development and arranging exchange between key actors. In the second case, based on the experiences of the 2SCALE programme, business-led partnerships arrange sourcing by companies from associated farmers and induce collaborations with small and medium enterprises in low income food markets. The cases reveal that one cannot predict the route to impact, but one can compose plausible story lines explicating the assumptions. Rather than looking for a generic ToC, the authors propose a more systematic comparison of the situations of different interventions within similar programs, thus including the context. Connecting practitioners with researchers makes it possible to use more intermediate theorizations tailored to situated and specific impact pathways. However, the dynamics captured by ToCs may contrast with the donors’ consistent reliance on a rigid log-frame approach. Therefore, it is relevant to make explicit choices about how to relate ToCs to M&E efforts.
This working paper is part of a series, which are a result of the seminar “Agricultural Innovation Systems: reality check”. Another paper in this series (PDF) aims to develop and test a generalizable complexity-aware theory of change of how agricultural research for development fosters innovation.