Accepted Paper:

Don't mess with your Head Money! - Identifying indicators to assess change and capacity strengthening defined as emergent patterns of interaction  


Karen Iles (Learning Change)

Paper short abstract:

Defining poverty situations and capacity strengthening as "emergent patterns of interaction" offers an alternative explanation to that of results chain thinking on how social 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 approaches provide an explanation for how social change happens is controversial. Supporters and opponents of these approaches provide equally compelling arguments and evidence to corroborate their views. This controversy presents serious challenges for designing robust evaluation methodologies. One such challenge is how to select appropriate indicators of change within a context and discourse where the question of how social change even happens is hugely contested.

This paper presents a brief critique of the Logical Framework Approach and Theory of Change Approach to shed some light and clarity on the debate. An alternative explanation for change is offered based on the social interpretation of complexity sciences, adapted by the author to an international development context. Human social phenomenon such as markets, health services, businesses, governments and capacity strengthening processes are defined as emergent patterns of interaction between people. The paper goes on to explore how to select indicators of change based on this understanding of social phenomena and how they change. Concepts and practical applications of the approach are illustrated using an NGO's micro-credit program for owners of small businesses in Sierra Leone. The paper highlights the crucial and central role played by those who co-create businesses in identifying indicators of change. Implications of viewing social change as emergent patterns of interaction as compared to the dominant discourse rooted in results-based management are discussed.

Panel D3
How do we know it works? Exploring methods for evaluating the impact of capacity strengthening in international development