II-a Essentials of Theory-based Evaluation

Description of workshop content

Interventions are theories and evaluation is the test. This well-known reference is indicative of an influential school of thought and practice in evaluation, often called theory-driven or theory-based evaluation. Policy interventions (e.g. programs and projects) rely on underlying theories regarding how they are intended to work and contribute to processes of change. These theories (usually called program theories, theories of change, or intervention theories) are often made explicit in documents, but sometimes only exist in the minds of stakeholders. Program theories (whether explicit or tacit) guide the design and implementation of policy interventions and also constitute an important basis for evaluation. This workshop mainly focuses on the latter and provides an overview of the essentials of theory-based evaluation.

The workshop will cover the following topics:

  1. What do we mean by program theory
  2. Why is program theory important (in evaluation)
  3. What are the sources of program theory
  4. How can we develop program theory
  5. How do we use program theory as a framework for evaluation
  6. What are the main challenges for using program theory in evaluation

Examples from World Bank evaluations as well as other organizations in the field of international development will be used throughout the workshop to illustrate the content. The workshop will use a combination of short lectures, group exercises, and group and plenary discussions.

Workshop objectives

After this course, participants have developed an initial sound understanding of the role of program theory in evaluation and how to apply theory-based evaluation in practice. More specifically, participants will have a greater understanding of:

  1. Different purposes and uses of program theory in evaluation
  2. Principles for reconstructing a program theory
  3. Applications of theory-based evaluation in practice

Recommended for

Evaluators (commissioners, policy makers). The workshop is intended to provide essential knowledge to professionals who are at the start of or in the early phases of their career in evaluation. More experienced evaluators may find the empirical examples of using program theory in evaluation helpful. Although they may be familiar with some or several of the principles of theory-based evaluation, the workshop may also serve as a useful refresher course as well as a source for broadening and deepening their understanding of the topic. Evaluation commissioners and policy makers may find the workshop helpful to develop an analytical understanding of how policy interventions work. They may also find the workshop useful to deepen their understanding of evaluation methodology more generally.


The workshop provides an introduction to theory-based evaluation.


Knowledge of the practice of evaluation (e.g. as provided by the IPDET core course) is highly desirable.

The workshop provides a useful introduction to the advanced workshop on Theory-based causal analysis conducted by Dr. Estelle Raimondo.


Jos Vaessen