Constructing a Theory of Change Diagram for Freedom from Hunger

The plan for The Evidence Project is to construct a theory of change for Freedom from Hunger from the conclusions drawn from each of the Themes as they are covered. I also want to provide some indication of the apparent strength of the supporting evidence and the apparent strength of each of the proposed cause-and-effect linkages in the “benefits diagram,” as we call it at Freedom from Hunger.

Given the conclusions I offered in my last post (# 17), I start this construction project with the following simple diagram. As new Themes are added, the diagram will become increasingly complex, but the logic of the diagram should remain the same. Here is what I propose for that logic.

What do the colors mean?

The strength of the evidence of this impact could range from “least” (no evidence at all—indicated by the color red) to “greatest” (solidly confirmed by at least one rigorous study establishing linkage of cause—group participation—and effect—lower cost of access and use of the credit and saving services offered through the group—indicated by the dark blue color). The intermediate strengths are indicated by the intermediate colors in the standard color spectrum.

What do the arrows mean?

The arrows indicate the direction of cause to effect, and the arrow’s thickness indicates the likelihood that any one group will experience the impact of lower costs. Another way to say this would be the average strength of the impact. If a few groups experience much lower costs, but the vast majority experience very little difference, the likelihood of any one group experiencing lower costs is low, as is the average strength of the impact on a group of women. This may sound far more precise than intended!

The likelihood of impact varies from “weakest” (indicated by the thinnest arrow) to “strongest” (indicated by the thickest arrow).

What does the diagram tell us?

The diagram proposes that participation in both types of women’s group gives them access to borrowing and saving at substantially less cost than they would incur without these groups.

Clearly the evidence of impact is neither at the “least” end nor at the “greatest” end of the spectrum. Lacking any conclusive, rigorous study that I know of, but given the strong, logical inference of impact that can be drawn from the studies and data we do have, I have assigned the light-blue color in the “Decreased Cost” oval to indicate strong but not the strongest evidence of impact.

The colors of the arrows reflect the same judgment about the strength of the evidence.

The likelihood judgment is about how much difference group participation makes in the average cost of access (combining all dimensions of costs discussed in the posts of Theme Two). My reading of the evidence leads me to assign fairly thick arrows from both types of women’s group, but thicker for savings groups than for credit groups—because savings groups retain the revenue from lending operations, which gives them a very nice return on their savings (a rarity among savings products for the poor).

It is obvious that I am exercising judgment in assigning these colors and arrow thicknesses. From your reading of the evidence presented in this Theme Two (and any additional evidence you have), you may judge differently. You could be very helpful to Freedom from Hunger by letting me know if your judgment calls differ from mine—and why.