Theory of Change Adaptive Learning and Validation Program (TALV)



Many international development projects develop a Theory of Change (TOC) to identify how activities, outputs, project assumptions and risks interact to catalyze change. A TOC can be thought of as the hypothesized series of changes that are expected to occur in a given context as the result of specific activities. Unfortunately, most international development projects don’t revisit their TOC after it’s developed in the initial program design stage, missing an opportunity to apply the TOC to learning and adaptive management practices so that donors and implementers understand how and why change did or did not unfold in the way it was expected to.

Through the Technical and Operational Performance Support (TOPS) Program Improvement Award, ACDI/VOCA will not only further ongoing dialogue about how best to use a TOC for learning, but will build international development program staff capacity in conducting informed data analysis as part of a collaborating, learning and adapting (CLA) approach.

  • Identify, conceptualize, illustrate, share, promote and disseminate innovative and robust methodologies for learning from and validating the processes and results of an international development program’s TOC.
  • Create a guidance document, inclusive of technical best practices and case studies, on TOC validation. The document will give field, program and M&E staff tools for testing the validity of the links in their project’s TOC, and for using such information for organizational learning.
  • Convene an interdisciplinary Strategic Dynamics Working Group, comprised of technical specialists in international development, who will provide ideas and feedback on the guidance document.
  • TOC Validation Conference- early March 2017: ACDI/VOCA will host a one-day M&E Strategic Dynamics conference focusing on TOC validation methodologies in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The conference, open to the international development community as a whole, will showcase best practices and cases, along with actionable tools, for theory of change testing, validation and learning.
  • TOC Validation Workshop- early March 2017: ACDI/VOCA will also facilitate, in Addis Ababa, a four-day workshop, geared toward M&E staff, on implementation of TOC validation and learning practices. This interactive workshop will provide participants with in-depth instruction and applied learning modules.
  • M&E staff at international development organizations have increased practical and actionable knowledge of TOC validation methodologies, as a result of attending the TOC Validation Conference and/or Workshop.  Program and M&E staff have increased have increased practical and actionable knowledge of TOC validation methodologies, as a result of reading and engaging with the guidance document.
  • The community of practice around TOC usage and learning is strengthened as a result of the Strategic Dynamics Working Group.

Funder: Technical and Operational Performance Support (TOPS) Program, USAID/Food for Peace

Contact: Jennifer Himmelstein,

Resources: TOPS Food Security Network Monitoring and Evaluation Facilitator’s Guide


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Mazen Fawzy, Program Manager
Jacob Gray, Capacity Building Specialist
Jennifer Himmelstein, Technical Lead
Heather LeMunyon, Economic Specialist
Sarah Sahlaney, Behavior and Communication Change Specialist

Strategic Dynamics Working Group
Jessica Bagdonis, Bureau for Food Security at USAID
Ekin Birol, IFPRI
Michael Crino, USAID Geocetner
Lorine Ghabranious, Africa Bureau
Daniel Juhn, Conservation International
Francis Okello, Social Impact
Vara Prasad, Sustainable Intensification Innovation Lab, Kansas State University
Farzana Ramzan, USAID
Meredith Saggers, Land O’Lakes International Development
David S. Wilkie, Conservation Measures and Communities