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Using theories of change to design monitoring and evaluation of community engagement in research: experiences from a research institute in Malawi

Gooding, Kate ORCID:, Makwinja, Regina, Nyirenda, Deborah, Vincent, Robin and Sambakunsi, Rodrick (2018) 'Using theories of change to design monitoring and evaluation of community engagement in research: experiences from a research institute in Malawi'. Wellcome Open Research, Vol 3, p. 8.

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Background: Evaluation of community and public engagement in research is important to deepen understanding of how engagement works and to enhance its effectiveness. Theories of change have been recommended for evaluating community engagement, for their ability to make explicit intended outcomes and understandings of how engagement activities contribute to these outcomes. However, there are few documented examples of using theories of change for evaluation of engagement. This article reports experience of using theories of change to develop a framework for evaluating community engagement in research at a clinical research organisation in Malawi. We describe the steps used to develop theories of change, and the way theories of change were used to design data collection plans. Based on our experience, we reflect on the advantages and challenges of the theory of change approach.
Methods: The theories of change and evaluation framework were developed through a series of workshops and meetings between engagement practitioners, monitoring and evaluation staff, and researchers. We first identified goals for engagement, then used ‘so that’ chains to clarify pathways and intermediate outcomes between engagement activities and goals. Further meetings were held to refine initial theories of change, identify priority information needs, and define feasible evaluation methods.
Results: The theory of change approach had several benefits. In particular, it helped to construct an evaluation framework focused on relevant outcomes and not just activities. The process of reflecting on intended goals and pathways also helped staff to review the design of engagement activities. Challenges included practical considerations around time to consider evaluation plans among practitioners (a challenge for evaluation more generally regardless of method), and more fundamental difficulties related to identifying feasible and agreed outcomes.
Conclusions: These experiences from Malawi provide lessons for other research organisations considering use of theories of change to support evaluation of community engagement.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: WA Public Health > WA 30 Socioeconomic factors in public health (General)
WM Psychiatry > WM 20 Research (General)
Faculty: Department: Clinical Sciences & International Health > Clinical Sciences Department
Digital Object Identifer (DOI):
SWORD Depositor: JISC Pubrouter
Depositing User: Stacy Murtagh
Date Deposited: 14 Feb 2018 16:07
Last Modified: 07 Jun 2022 11:10


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