Nuggets, Smoking Guns, and the Wild West of Evaluation

Edwin Church, Twilight in the Wilderness

In recent years, international development programmes have increasingly sought to address complex problems, and this has led to growing demand for “complexity-aware” approaches to monitoring and evaluation. One key area of this frontier is the family of approaches known as theory-based evaluation.

In this webinar hosted by the Centre for Development Impact (CDI), I argue that there is a need for combining theory-based methods to improve evaluation practice and shed light on causal mechanisms.

I draw on on recent lessons on comparative learning from six process tracing evaluations conducted between 2017 and 2020. I explain how realist evaluation can strengthen process tracing’s approach to causal explanation by offering a sharper focus on context and demonstrating why it is so important to reflect on actors’ motivation (or reasoning). And I also show how process tracing can support realist evaluation to appraise the quality of mechanistic evidence in a new light, based on Bayesian logic and the legal concept of “probative value”.

I'm an independent consultant specialising in theory-based and participatory evaluation methods.