By Josefa Kny, Sabine Hoffmann, Emilia Nagy and Martina Schäfer
What are key functions of theory of change? For what purposes can we use theory of change in inter- and transdisciplinary research?
A theory of change maps the assumed relationships between activities and short-, medium- and long-term changes of an intervention, program or project. It makes assumptions about why and how such changes occur transparent. Theory of change approaches have their origins in theory-based evaluation and Paulo Freire’s theory of societal change (Freire, 1970) and have predominantly been used in development research and practice since the late 1990s.
In general, theory of change can be understood as a process and a product, as described by Heléne Clarke in her i2Insights contribution Theory of Change in a nutshell. In the process, a group of involved actors develop their shared understanding of how the program, project or intervention will bring about a desired change. The product is a narrative and/or visualisation which illustrates how such change will be achieved.
Although theory of change was not developed for inter- and transdisciplinary research, both the process and the product are relevant for such investigations.