Applying a Theory of Change Approach to the Evaluation of Comprehensive Community Initiatives
Progress, Prospects and Problems
This influential paper from the Aspen Institute proposed the ‘Theory of Change Approach' for the Comprehensive Community Initiative (CCI). Three stages in carrying out this approach are identified and elaborated, namely,
- surfacing and articulating a theory of change;
- measuring a CCI's activities and intended outcomes; and
- analyzing and interpreting the results of an evaluation, including their implications for adjusting the initiative's theory of change and its allocation of resources.
What makes this approach different from conventional evaluation process is "CCI theories have multiple strands (economic, political, and social), which operate at many levels (community, institutional, personal network, family, and individual), are co-constructed in a collaborative process by diverse stakeholders, and evolve over the course of the initiative." The TOC approach is defined as "a systematic and cumulative study of the links between activities, outcomes, and contexts of the initiative." Three attributes of an effective TOC approach are that it is plausible, doable, and testable. The paper provides case examples on how to develop designs that meet this criteria In conclusion, some of the strengths of TOC approach are:
- It generates useful learning over the life span of the initiative and can spawn cross-initiative learning;
- It promotes "collaboration and engagement at the community level focused on products and outcomes;"
- It facilitates the "diffusion of responsibility."
One identified weakness is that stakeholders "need to invest time and political capital in developing plausible, doable, and testable theories of change."