Impact evaluation theories

Theory-based impact evaluation: how to unpack the causal chain

June 23, 2009

Speaker: Dr. Howard White, 3ie

Recent years have seen an increased demand for rigorous impact evaluation of development interventions. This new quest is not just about finding what works, but understanding why.

A theory-based approach to impact evaluation maps out the causal chain from inputs to outcomes and impact. It tests the underlying assumptions as to why an intervention has worked or not. If theory based impact evaluation is widely accepted in principle, its application remains weak in practice.

3ie hosted a discussion on ‘Theory-Based Impact Evaluation’ as part of its Delhi seminar series where Howard White, 3ie Executive Director, presented some case studies and proposed steps to bridge the gap from theory to practice.

The event was chaired by Dr. S.P. Pal, President of the Department Evaluation Society of India and Dr. Milindo Chakrabarty, as main discussant and Executive Director of the Development Evaluation Society of India.

“Often the assumptions behind any programme design are not correlated to the reality on the ground”, stressed Dr. Chakrabarty. 
“In the case of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, we found out during the evaluation that people requested job cards to document their citizenship and not necessarily because they needed work”, he added.’

Participants also stressed the difficulty to map out the causal chain in a cost effective way, and design a counter-factual particularly for interventions in sectors other than health and education.

To download Dr. White’s presentation, click here.

Read more on ‘Theory-based impact evaluation’ in 3ie working paper 3.pdf (918.9 KB) .

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