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Theory-based approaches for causal inference

According to Birckmayer and Weiss (2000: 407), theory-based evaluation ‘explores the how and why of program success or failure’. More specifically, based on a review of their works, theory-based evaluation examines the assumptions underlying the causal chain from inputs and activities to outcomes and impact in great detail. For example, what are the activities, what are their effects, and what does the initiative do next? The evaluation then looks at every step along this pathway to see what happened in reality and to what extent the original theory or causal chain can be validated. To evaluate an initiative, the Theory of Change needs to be made explicit and each part of the causal chain needs to be confirmed using (more often than not) a mix of methods.



  • Birckmayer, J.D. and Weiss, C.H. (2000) ‘Theory-Based Evaluation in Practice: What do we learn?’, Evaluation Review 24 (4): 407-31.
  • Kusters, C.S.L. et al (2017). Managing for Sustainable Development Impact: an Integrated Approach to Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation. Wageningen, Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation, Wageningen University & Research, and Rugby, UK: Practical Action Publishing.