Using Program Theory in Evaluation

Using Program Theory in Evaluation Course Description

Program theories—also known as theories of change and logic models—are here, there, and everywhere in evaluation. Evaluators use program theories to depict the inner workings of interventions, to inform evaluation design of these interventions, and to explain how and why interventions work (or fail to work). There are many potential uses and benefits of program theories. Reflecting the popularity of program theories, a broad range of approaches and techniques for developing and testing program theories has been developed over the years. The purpose of this four-module course is to provide an overview of these approaches and techniques. What are the different types of program theories? What are the best ways to develop and visually present a program theory? What are the different approaches and techniques for testing a program theory as part of an evaluation? These are the types of questions that will be addressed in this course. 

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Module 1: The Landscape of Theory-based Evaluation

This module first sets the scene for the course by introducing the participants to the three main types of theory in evaluation: evaluation theory (evaluation approaches), social science theory, and program theory. The distinct roles and purposes of these are discussed. The focus then turns to theory-based evaluation, an umbrella term for numerous closely related evaluation approaches that share a focus on the development of program theory. The main approaches covered are theory-driven evaluation, realist evaluation, and contribution analysis. We will discuss the similarities and distinctions between these approaches.  

Module 2: What Is This Thing Called Program Theory?

The second module focuses on different types of program theory, such as log frames, logic models, theories of action or change, context-mechanism-outcome (CMO) configurations, and other conceptual models. The purpose of the module is to identify similarities and distinctions, as well as benefits and limitations, between different types of program theories. This involves examining their main structure and components. We will also discuss what constitutes a good program theory.  

Modules 3 and 4: How We Model Matters: Strategies for Developing and Testing Program Theories

The third and fourth modules of the course provide an overview of different approaches and techniques for developing and testing program theories. These include theory of change workshops, concept mapping, theory knitting, outcome mapping, logic analysis, and qualitative comparative analysis. We will discuss the purposes and procedural steps, benefits and limitations, of these approaches. We will discuss the applicability of the different approaches in relation to a case study.

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