Accepted paper:

Evaluating capacity strengthening as a non-linear emergent process


Karen Iles (Learning Change)

Paper short abstract:

Defining capacity strengthening as "emergent patterns of interaction" offers an alternative explanation to that of the logical framework approach and results chain thinking on how change arises. This has important practical implications for identifying and measuring indicators of change.

Paper long abstract:

Evaluations of capacity strengthening initiatives are typically designed around a program's logical framework and theory of change. However, the extent to which these two approaches provide an explanation for how change happens - such as capacity strengthening - is controversial. There are two opposing views. Opponents of the logical framework approach (LFA) argue that the assumptions of change underpinning the LFA - that of a linear causality that is relatively predicable and controllable - are incongruent with the reality of uncertainty and unpredictability faced by organisations. Some argue that The Theory of Change approach (TOC) addresses these "short falls" of the LFA. Others argue that the TOC is simply an extension of the LFA. Conversely, supporters of the LFA and TOC approach argue that these approaches are robust and accommodate uncertainty. For them, the issue lies in how organisations use these approaches. This controversy presents serious challenges for designing robust evaluation methodologies. An alternative explanation for change based on Complex Responsive Processes theory (Stacey et al, 2012) is presented, adapted by the author of this paper to an international development context. Capacity strengthening is defined as emergent patterns of interaction arising in a non-linear process. The practical implications are explained through the case study of an INGO evaluation. Selecting indicators of change based on emergence, congruence with the INGOs theory of change are explored.

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Impactful development?
How do we know it works? Exploring methods for evaluating the impact of capacity strengthening in international development [paper]